The Wolves blitzed the Lakers in the first two quarters and took an 11-point lead into halftime. They led by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter. And still, they lost 108-102 in overtime and will have to win their second Play-In Tournament game on Friday in order to secure a playoff spot.
The culprit in this collapse was complete offensive failure. Put off by Anthony Davis’ prowling defense and the increasing heat of the moment, Minnesota scored just seven points in the final 11 minutes between the fourth quarter and overtime. Over that span, they committed eight turnovers (including two shot clock violations) and shot 2-of-14 from the floor.
The Wolves were just completely out of sorts, and the most mind-numbing part of it is that they ran good offense before the fourth quarter. They outplayed the Lakers throughout the first three frames, but the seismic quality of their late-game meltdown allowed Los Angeles to escape with a win.
Karl-Anthony Towns’ first half was one of the most impactful he’s ever played and showcased the myriad skills that make him one of the toughest covers in the league. When the buzzer sounded to go to halftime, Towns had 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks; he had shot five-of-five from the field and six-of-six from the free throw line; and he was a whopping plus-23 in 20 minutes.
When Towns kept the momentum going with a solid third quarter, Minnesota looked destined to win the first Western Conference play-in game for the second straight year. Then Towns didn’t score once through the fourth quarter or overtime. He looked timid at times with the ball, turning down chances to attack mismatches in isolation in favor of kicking the ball out to teammates who had less of a chance to create an advantage. The final line for Towns (24-11-5, three blocks, 8-of-12 shooting) was good, but it felt like he left some opportunities on the table with that head-scratching conclusion.
It was nothing compared to the frustration of Anthony Edwards’ night, though. Edwards was clearly hampered physically — he came back from the locker room in the third quarter with tape on his shoulder, and he looked gassed for much of the night.
Still, Ant’s numbers were pretty ghastly: Nine points, four turnovers, 3-of-17 shooting from the field, 0-for-9 from three. His shoulder seemed to throw his jumper all out of whack, and he clearly didn’t have it in him to drive to the basket until he got two point-blank buckets in overtime. That was too little, too late for Minnesota on this night, though, and Edwards will have to figure something out if the Wolves want a good chance in the do-or-die final play-in game.
Perhaps Minnesota wouldn’t have run out of gas so completely if they had Rudy Gobert and Jaden McDaniels available. Gobert was serving a suspension for punching teammate Kyle Anderson in the regular season finale, while McDaniels is out indefinitely after breaking his hand punching a wall in that same game. This gut-wrenching loss feels like just the latest episode of the soap opera the Wolves have become this season.
Minnesota got a tough whistle, getting called for 26 fouls to the Lakers’ 15. This led to a free throw discrepancy (22-of-24 for the Lakers, 14-of-15 for the Wolves) that proved a key boon for Los Angeles. Between that and the Lakers’ predictable 12-to-4 edge on the offensive glass, Los Angeles simply had more scoring opportunities.
One Timberwolf who stepped up in a big way was Mike Conley Jr. The veteran point guard was the only reliable player Minnesota had for the full 53 minutes, and he came up big time and time again.
It was Conley who sent the game to overtime after Dennis Schroeder’s apparent game-winning three by drawing a 3-point shooting foul on Davis with 0.1 seconds left in regulation and nailing all the free throws (although the first was a nerve-wracking experience). It was Conley who hit six of his eight 3-point attempts en route to 23 points on the night, helping to halt Lakers runs in the second and fourth quarters. It was even Conley who stole a Lakers inbound pass in the final seconds of overtime, helping to set up a game-tying 3-point look for Taurean Prince. When that shot clanged off the iron, though, it was clear Minnesota’s magic had run out.
The Wolves wasted a fantastic performance from Conley. That will hurt a lot more if the next game doesn’t go to plan.
The Wolves will host the winner of tomorrow night’s Thunder-Pelicans matchup at 8:30 p.m. CT on Friday. The winner of that game will go on to face the No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.