Bradley Beal’s outstanding scoring ability was on full display Thursday night, as he flexed his knack to take over a game by creating in isolation. The Washington Wizards called his number over and over again down the stretch, getting Jaden McDaniels switched off of him and then going to work against the Minnesota Timberwolves’ defense.
Earlier in the evening it was Beal prodding and distributing with a hint of scoring, snaking through pin-down screens and ball screens to get the ball in his hands and then proceeding to generate offense.
But in the fourth quarter, he flipped the script and started attacking.
Before the unfortunate outcome, the Target Center crowd gave Mike Conley a warm Minnesota welcome as he stepped onto the navy blue floor for the first time as a Timberwolf. As the (literal) smoke cleared after starters were announced, all eyes set on Conley during the first stint of his home debut.
The only eyes not on Conley were Nathan Knight’s, as during introductions he continually tapped his head and smiled as one of the guards attempted a dunk with teammates standing under the rim.
After one game, Conley has yet to score as a Wolf at Target Center. He finished 0-6 from the field on the evening.
After lighting it up with 41 points in his last outing against the Wolves, Kristaps Porzingis was guarded by Kyle Anderson to start the game on Thursday night, with Rudy Gobert checking Daniel Gafford. Porzingis was held to eight points in the first half, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and corralling just one rebound. Although not a night in which he scored a ton, Porzingis generated open looks for Beal late in the fourth.
Before things went south, the Wolves started the game on a high note. 2023 NBA All-Star Anthony Edwards scored 14 points in the first five minutes of the game, knocking down his first three 3-point attempts.
The Timberwolves also got out and ran to start the contest, scoring 11 fast break points in the quarter one, including this block and triple from Ant.
Anthony Edwards transition block + 3, impressive sequence pic.twitter.com/BWFRLrgXEA— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) February 17, 2023
Despite not scoring, Conley partially contributed to a 30-point performance for the Wolves in the first 6:30 of the game. The crowd gave the team a nice ovation as they walked to the bench after a timeout early in the first quarter, as the fans saw their team dominate the early minutes of contest.
The second Timberwolf making their debut in Minneapolis was Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who entered the game with 10:30 to go it the second quarter and was able to provide some nice perimeter defense and score a bucket early on.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker suffocating closeout + on-ball defense pic.twitter.com/RcZhNIdKkJ— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) February 17, 2023
Early in the second half was when the game slowly started to unravel. The Wizards cut the lead to four with 7:15 left in the third, with a 13-point five minutes to start the quarter. Edwards dug into the Wizards’ momentum, though, getting to the line on two consecutive drives, successfully completing a three-point play.
“I think we lost focus [...] we didn’t close the quarter very well at all. I didn’t like the way we closed most quarters, just have to do a better job with that,” head coach Chris Finch said postgame.
Despite struggling to maintain Beal late in the game Rudy Gobert played well, finishing with 17 points and 19 rebounds. Two of those 17 came from a feed from Conley for a throw down in the third quarter — and another dunk following shortly after — generating faint “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” chants that rained down from the seats at Target Center.
Minnesota and Gobert had control of the paint all night, as 50 of their 87 points — through three quarters — came from close to the rim. Gobert had 15 rebounds through three quarters, tormenting the Wizards on the glass, prompting a re-appearance of Daniel Gafford at the beginning of the final quarter.
Jaden McDaniels was truly a marvel on both ends of the floor, constantly making things painful for Washington’s offense. He enforced his will on the offensive glass on multiple occasions, even if he didn’t pull down the board. Gobert and McDaniels combined for 10 offensive rebounds in the game, contributing to 13 second chance points for the Timberwolves.
McDaniels shot the ball well from beyond the arc as well, ending the night with three makes from beyond the arc.
Jaden McDaniels side-step 3 pic.twitter.com/2GvurX5vPY— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) February 17, 2023
When the game came down the last few possessions, Bradley Beal ran the Wolves into the ground. Ruthlessly attacking switches, Beal made bucket after bucket to carry the Wizards to victory.
It was a game that Minnesota had chances to end early in the second half, and failed to do so. After a strong start, it wouldn’t have taken much to put the nail in the coffin.
Timely turnovers, stagnant offense and subpar crunch time play allowed Washington back into the game, and they seized the opportunity they were given.
“The area for progression is what it’s been all year, maturity, focus. Seizing these opportunities that are in front of us, capitalizing on these opportunities that we create, finding a little bit more of a defensive backbone. We’re struggling to guard in the fourth quarter right now,” Finch said.