Timberwolves

Why Did the Wolves Miss Mike Conley So Much In Game 5?

Photo Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves quickly changed Mike Conley’s “questionable” tag to “out” in a matter of hours, knowing he would miss Game 5. Conley suffered an Achilles strain on the final possession of Game 4, sidelining Minnesota’s veteran presence as the Wolves looked to regain momentum in its second-round series against the Denver Nuggets.

Minnesota had a contingency plan, inserting Nickeil Alexander-Walker into the starting lineup and using Anthony Edwards more frequently on the ball. However, the Wolves missed their floor general in their 112-97 Game 5 loss in Denver.

Three consistent issues led to Minnesota’s defeat: decision-making, three-point shooting, and the pressure Denver schematically sent toward Edwards. Together, they hampered Minnesota’s offensive freedom. Conley would have been able to mitigate all of these issues if he had been healthy enough to play.

While the Wolves missed Conley’s play, he was also one of the most hungry players on the roster coming into these playoffs. Conley, 36, is nearing the end of his long NBA career and is still looking for his first championship. While every player wants to be a champion, it means more to Conley now.

“I don’t think there is anyone on either team that wants it more than me right now,” Conley said before the first round. “I have told the guys that, selfishly, do it for me, man. Help me out. Meet me at my level because I don’t have long.”

The Wolves missed Conley in Game 5. Denver put significantly more pressure on Ant by putting two on him when he received a ball screen or bringing the nearest defender a pass away when the defense could be more set in halfcourt possessions. Alexander-Walker can effectively knock down threes a pass away. However, they needed Conley’s versatility in their second-side actions, which Ant and Rudy Gobert said they missed in their postgame press conferences.

“He was missed a lot. Him and Rudy’s pick-and-roll gets us a lot of points throughout the game,” Ant said. “His shooting ability and him attacking Jokic. He definitely was missed a lot tonight.”

Conley’s absence had an overall trickle-down effect on the offense. The Wolves already struggle with their offensive consistency and overall IQ as a unit. Therefore, when Conley is there to provide a steady option in alternative roles, such as being a connector or his ability to spot up away from the ball, it only becomes more amplified. That is where much of the stagnation came in Game 5.

Chris Finch noted postgame that they often could not make the simple play. Ant continues to handle defensive pressure and get rid of the ball with aplomb. However, the Wolves haven’t made quick decisions off that.

The Wolves have showcased the extra read a pass away, though.

  • While he’s still limited, Gobert has made better reads on the short roll during this series. He has found the kick out to the opposite corner or wing.
  • Nickeil has been productive using the drive-and-kick.
  • Jaden has attacked closeouts off the dribble to set up his own shot.

However, these options lack Conley’s quick processing and overall consistency. Denver has done a great job recovering from the pressure on Ant. Still, there will always be an exploit, and there is only so much time to find it.

The Wolves repeatedly capitalized on Denver overplaying Ant by finding the open man in Game 5, but that’s where the issue arose. Alexander-Walker and McDaniels missed timely shots from three. Jaden also had a handful of ill-advised drives into traffic, and Denver forced Nickeil into a mid-range pull-up jumper. When they kicked it out to Kyle Anderson, he often defaulted to going back to dribble handoffs. There was not enough success away from the initial pressure on Ant for the Wolves to create consistent advantages.

Those misses and miscues only piled up. Denver consistently found ways to push the ball off of Minnesota’s mistakes, leading to advantageous transition opportunities and unstoppable momentum. The Wolves are then stuck returning to the same static offense within the halfcourt, and the cycle continues.

While Conley is not the player he once was in his prime, his importance to this team was evident. Even in his poor performances, he makes plays that don’t show up in the box score on possessions where he doesn’t touch the ball, which impacts Minnesota’s offensive flow and overall process.

Edwards didn’t have a great performance. However, you can only imagine how much easier it would have been on him if he had his backcourt running mate at his side for Game 5.

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