While the Minnesota Timberwolves showed more heart in game two of their series against the Denver Nuggets, the result of the game ended up the same. They head back to Minnesota in a 0-2 series hole and are going to need a historically improbable effort to overcome that deficit: In NBA history, an eight seed has never come back from a 2-0 deficit in the seven game format.
Check out Aidan Berg’s great recap of Game 2 for an overview of the game, otherwise, let’s get right to the grades.
Three important reminders:
1. These grades are roles-based, so the stats I’m looking at for each player are different.
2. Single grade games and playoff stats are going to be an incredibly small sample-size and very reactionary. There will be a lot more variance in grades from game to game.
3. Many of the stat ranges I’ve created have been upped from their regular season counterparts. Raised minutes and expectations will put more of a spotlight on performance.
Mike Conley Game 2 Grade: 85% (B)
The veteran point guard is just always reliable. While this game was a step down defensively for him, he was the team’s third most effective offensive player behind Anthony Edwards and Kyle Anderson.
He now has a 10-1 assist-to-turnover ratio for the series and is the only player that has been good in both games thus far. My continual feeling watching Conley is how lucky the Timberwolves are to have an experienced player who knows what it takes to win.
Give Minnesota Mike that contract extension now.
Anthony Edwards Game 2 Grade: 97% (A)
That is what superstar effort looks like. Anthony Edwards went toe-to-toe with Jamal Murray, who was having an out-of-his-body kind of heater, and Edwards single-handedly gave the Timberwolves a chance to win this game.
Whether he’s 100% healthy or not, he upped his physicality, got into the paint, and exploited the Nugget’s inferior interior defense. Was the game perfect? No. Edward’s fourteen point first half wasn’t overly memorable, with a few off-ball defensive lapses.
But a second half like that covers a lot of sins. He came out like a man-possessed, scoring twenty-seven points and doing everything he could to get his team back in the game. It’s the effort needed from a superstar to win a playoff series.
Anthony Edwards is the oxygen keeping the dying embers of Timberwolves fans’ hopes ablaze.
Taurean Prince Game 2 Grade: 70% (C-)
It’s a mixed-bag game for Prince with some effective shooting (3-6 from deep), but his foul trouble and notable big foul (Michael Porter Jr. ‘s four-point play to start the fourth quarter) rendered him a net negative for the team Wednesday night.
The Timberwolves are going to need his offense come Friday.It would really be a perfect time to make another game-changing shot to implore a “Dearly Beloved” call.
Karl-Anthony Towns Game 2 Grade: 48% (F)
Time to flush another game. As you can see by his overall impact score, Towns’ game Wednesday night may have been worse than his game one performance. In fact, Towns was the second least impactful player on the team, finishing only above Jaylen Nowell’s less-than-inspiring sixteen minutes.
What more can you say about this max player’s continual underperformance in big playoff games? The narrative is building, and unless he can bounce back in a major way over the next two home games, the off-season talk about whether or not you can win with him as a focal point of your team is fair.
Possibly his calf injury is still hampering his physical ability, but fair or not, a year from now we’ll only remember the box score.
Rudy Gobert Game 2 Grade: 83% (B)
There was a lot more of Rudy Gobert on Nikola Jokić Wednesday night, and you know what, that matchup was an overall win for the Timberwolves.
Jokić’s stat line while being guarded by Gobert was the following: 7/13 FGs, 6 assists and 1 TO. Considering Jokić’s FG% was 63.2% throughout the course of the regular season, that’s effective defense from Gobert slowing down one of the game’s best. As Mike O’Hagan argued in his piece, game two returned some receipts showing this is the way to defend Jokić going forward.
Kyle Anderson Game 2 Grade: 88% (B+)
Since Anderson didn’t take a three in game two, I subbed in what I thought was a pretty notable advanced metric: According to the Player Impact Estimate (PIE) Prince was the second most impactful player for the Timberwolves Wednesday night behind Anthony Edwards, and there was a sizable gap to the next set of players.
It was a good bounce-back game from Anderson and the kind they’ll need from our favorite speed-challenged basketball player going forward.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker Game 2 Grade: 67% (D)
Alexander-Walker’s game took a step back Wednesday night. He was 1-5 from three point range, the majority of which were wide open. Prince took the starting spot over NAW to help provide an offensive spark, but because of foul trouble, Alexander-Walker ultimately ended up playing more minutes.
He ended up matching much less with Jamal Murray, limiting him to just 2-5 FGs, leading to five points, two assists, and generating one turnover. Alexander-Walker is still your most capable defender without a broken hand to slow Jamal Murray, and with Edwards’ offensive game lighting up, I’d start him on Friday night with the sole purpose of keeping Murray off-rhythm.
Jaylen Nowell Game 2 Grade: 52% (F)
This is the moment where you really feel how short-handed the Timberwolves are. Nowell can’t be both an ineffective/timid scorer and a liability defensively. It was a bad game, but since most of his minutes came in the Jokić-less minutes, he’s got to find a way to score if he’s on the floor. This team really seems a couple players short right now, doesn’t it?
*Sobs in pillow*
Exploiting Weakness Corner
Through two games of this series, the Denver Nuggets have shown two glaring weaknesses: A lack of depth and interior rim protection.
Game two featured the Timberwolves moving downhill and challenging at the rim, specifically in the second half, where they finally created some turnovers and caught the Nuggets flat-footed for once. In the same way the Nuggets have a clear game plan of “Run! Run! Run!,” the Timberwolves need to counter with “Attack! Attack! Attack!” Whether it was coaching or just a player’s mindset, it was good to see that happen more often on Wednesday.
As for Denver’s depth, with Jokić off the floor, the Nuggets were a plus three. In the first Jokić-less stint, the Timberwolves used KAT, Prince, Anderson, NAW and Nowell. When that offense struggled, there was a quick Conley for Nowell sub and eventually Edwards came in for Prince. By the time Jokić came back in, the Nuggets had a 12-10 advantage in those minutes.
In the second half, it was Conley, Prince, NAW, Anderson and Towns during the Jokić-less minutes. This was the start of the 4th quarter where our offense stalled and Michael Porter Jr. scored eight straight to take the lead back from the Timberwolves. Edwards was a quick sub for Alexander-Walker, and he brought some offense, but at that point Denver took the lead and never gave it back.
My biggest takeaway? Those three to five-minute stretches of the game are the moments where Towns has to be great. But rather, his statline in those minutes were: 0/2, 2 TOs, 2 personal fouls and 2 points on 2/2 free throws.
One superstar for Minnesota showed up to play Wednesday night. If the other can’t find his way, plan on bringing a broom to the game Sunday night.