Timberwolves

The Wolves Are Tapping Into Another Level Heading Into the Postseason

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Karl-Anthony Towns to a meniscus injury, the Minnesota Timberwolves lost two of their next three games. They were slowly losing their grasp of the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed. Roles had to be adjusted, and everyone had to be that much sharper to make up for Towns’ absence. Since this stretch, the Wolves have shown a different side to them, winning four of their last five games. They’re solidifying an identity largely inconsistent throughout the Finch era.

Not only have the Wolves had to face Towns’ absence, but Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid have also had to miss a few games. That led to Luka Garza earning some of his most significant minutes of the season guarding two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. After Minnesota’s 115-112 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Garza said he felt he made things tougher for Jokic in the second half.

After a strong start, Jokic struggled to dictate the game’s tempo for large parts of the second half. Despite the loss, it’s promising that the depleted Wolves could hang with the defending NBA champions until the final moments, indicating they may be Denver’s biggest challenge.

The Wolves have often failed to execute late in games throughout the Finch era, and it’s likely been their most concerning weakness. But Minnesota has the best win percentage in the NBA when facing a 10-plus-point deficit or more this season. The last five outings have shown that they are unwilling to go down without a fight. Last season, the Timberwolves faced even more challenges with injuries than they’ve been facing lately. However, it seems that the experiences of last season have prepared them for this familiar situation.

Minnesota showcased its resiliency when it defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in front of a national audience. Although they started slow, the Wolves battled back to take a commanding lead. In the third quarter, they outscored the Clippers 40-19 en route to a 118-100 road win. It was a pivotal win for the Wolves because they clinched the tiebreaker advantage for the season series.

The Wolves finished their regular season matchups, with the Clippers winning three out of four encounters. Kawhi Leonard left the game early, but the Wolves were still up against elite offensive players like Paul George and James Harden. After the game, Finch was complimentary of Minnesota’s belief in each other.

“This team believes in each other,” Finch said, “no matter who we put on the floor.”

Jordan McLaughlin answered the call, particularly with his improvement as a three-point shooter. McLaughlin’s inefficient shooting was one reason Finch could not play him. But this season, he has made those shots consistently while still being a catalyst of good offensive and defensive possessions. Contributions like McLaughlin’s signify how much trust this team has in each other to make the right decisions when called upon.

The Timberwolves displayed their resolve in their 104-91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wolves were down by three points at the half. While they played decently, their inability to make close-range shots allowed the Cavs to fight back from a 10-point deficit in the last six minutes of the second quarter. Anthony Edwards struggled to make shots for most of the game but remained assertive. Instead of forcing shots down the stretch, Edwards found his teammates late.

He had two key assists in the fourth that led to three-pointers for Reid and Jaden McDaniels, two players who have been effective lately. Edwards hasn’t always had this discipline, but it shows how the game continues slowing down for him. It’s a pleasure to watch Edwards when he’s on fire. However, Edwards’ ability to expand his situational awareness is a step in the right direction for the 22-year-old.

If the Wolves can continue playing with this level of resiliency, it should allow them to be more confident. Look at Denver’s performance on Tuesday. They struggled in the third quarter and could’ve easily lost that game, but they found a way. Championship-level teams don’t always win pretty, but they consistently win the games that inexperienced teams aren’t able to. The Wolves will want to mimic those traits to find themselves in a similar position as the postseason nears.

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