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Minnesota Timberwolves Player Grades: NBA Playoffs Game 3 vs Nuggets

Anthony Edwards once again shines when the lights are brightest, but even with his effort, the Timberwolves can’t find the right winning formula

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Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Three Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves made their return to Target Center on Friday night and lost again to a superior team. Though the game mostly involved only a single-digit deficit, the Denver Nuggets were in control from start to finish which Jack Borman covers fantastically in his post-game write-up.

Now the Timberwolves season is on life support. Sunday night’s game may have the feeling of a hospital waiting room; family and friends are gathering around to say their final goodbyes, and all that is left is for the doctor to give that sullen nod that lets you know the end has happened. Everyone is expecting the sullen nod to come before the night is over.

Well, that is except for one person. “This series is not over. It’s the first to four, not to three. I promise you it ain’t over. Everyone’s counting us out. It ain’t over. I promise you.”

Jon Krawczynski’s piece paints a picture of a dejected but resolute Anthony Edwards in the post-game locker room. And you know what? The season may be on life support, but as long as the twenty-one year old All-star has some fight left in him, it’s not over yet.

Onto 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 3 Grade: 76% (C)

Just an overall average game from Minnesota Mike. He shot well without getting into game-changing status, but the biggest dropoff from games one and two were the additional turnovers in game three. For the series, he’s still at a 5-1 assists-to-turnover ratio, but like many of the grades that will follow, an average game just wasn’t good enough to beat a locked-in Nuggets team.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker Game 3 Grade: 91% (A-)

There is definitely correlation between Alexander-Walker in the starting lineup and Jamal Murray having the only poor shooting night on the Nuggets’ roster. While they were matched-up, Murray finished 1/6 FGs, had two assists and one turnover.

This is the third game in a row where the NAW/Murray matchup has tilted in Alexander-Walker’s favor based on scoring expectation. Add in a 2/2 three point performance, and this is the second game this series where NAW is doing his job on both ends.

Anthony Edwards Game 3 Grade: 98% (A)

Anthony Edwards is the youngest player in NBA history not named LeBron James to score 35+ points in back-to-back playoff games.

In a game that featured the back-to-back MVP, Edwards was the most unstoppable force on the floor again Friday night. Good players can put up performances like Edwards did in game two, but great players find a way to dazzle even after the defense has had time to gameplan and adjust.

I’ll be attending Sunday’s game four with a faint ember of optimism in my heart that the series isn’t yet over for just one reason: a player as special as Anthony Edwards.

Karl-Anthony Towns Game 3 Grade: 72% (C-)

On the bright side, this game doesn’t fall into the immediately flush category. Towns had twenty-seven points on 10-17 shooting - he was an efficient scorer when he put up a shot.

So why the lower grade/impact on the game? Turnovers and poor defense.

In a further sign that this two center alignment is not working, Bruce Brown was isolating Towns on the perimeter and beating him to the basket during the Jokić-less third quarter. Towns also threw multiple pick-six passes, making the overall impact of his game feel more nebulous.

Even this passable effort could have won game two for the Timberwolves, but alas, the different pieces just aren’t clicking at the same time together.

Rudy Gobert Game 3 Grade: 71% (C-)

The defensive numbers here seem less about poor defense and more about incredible shot making. Nonetheless, in both his matchup with Jokić and in the times where the Nuggets took shots within the restricted area with Gobert present, he didn’t have enough of an impact to alter shots from makes to misses.

An effective rolling and offensive rebounding game was hampered by missed free throws and foul trouble, even if his sixth foul was just a brutal call.

Honest question: Should the Timberwolves invest in a pratfall coach for the offseason? Take fifteen minutes at the end of each practice and work on exaggerating contact? Baiting the refs into blowing the whistle is the best way in the current NBA to get foul calls, and there is an added benefit from developing that skill: you might win an MVP award.

Kyle Anderson Game 3 Grade: 68% (D+)

You’d only need one hand to count the number of times that Kyle Anderson has been a net-negative player for the Timberwolves this season. Unfortunately, with a 1-7 shooting performance, foul trouble, and tying for a team leading -10 in plus/minus, Anderson had his second mediocre-to-poor game of the series thus far.

He still made a few notable plays defensively, but as has been consistent with his teammates this series, offensively he hasn’t been as effective as he was during the regular season.The Nuggets deserve credit for their defensive scheming – forcing Anderson and other Timberwolves players to spots on the floor where they are less comfortable.

Taurean Prince Game 3 Grade: 90% (A-)

Prince only played 15 minutes, but in that time, he hit the right benchmarks for the stats I’m tracking. By my own eye test, I would have guessed that his game would have finished in the “C” range, simply because I really could not think of any standout moments during his time on the court.

He finished the game with the third highest impact score, so I do think there is something to the numbers here. A bench player who gives fifteen minutes of solid play on both ends of the court, highlighted by some efficient shooting, is something this team would take ten times out of ten.

Jaylen Nowell Game 3 Grade: 37% (F)

Oof. There is no need to pile on any further; Nowell is a hobbled player at the end of your roster fighting through injury because the team is desperate for warm bodies. Speaking of warm bodies…

Austin Rivers Game 3 Grade: 60% (D-)

I’m a fan of what Austin Rivers has brought this team as a whole throughout the season, but his and Nowell’s ineffective playing time Friday left me asking one question: Why are the Timberwolves not giving Josh Minott a chance? This team is just in desperate need of something different off the bench as they’ve been outscored 74-55 in bench points this series.

For two teams lacking depth, that is a decisive and series-shifting advantage. When your team is down 3-0, it’s time to get creative. Even if Minott is completely ineffective as well Sunday, there will be a buzz in the building when he checks in, and you get a presumed future role player some meaningful playoff minutes.

If the Timberwolves season is going to end, let’s at least have some fun doing it.

Exploiting Weakness Corner

Well, once again the Nuggets were a positive team during Jokić’s time off the court. During his first bench stint, the Nuggets won those minutes +3. During the second stint, the final six minutes of the third, the Timberwolves were only able to close that gap by 2. At that moment the ballgame was over.

According to my second half text thread, the Denver Nuggets had at least eight field goals that bounced off the rim and went in. Anecdotally, did it not feel like most of the Nuggets shots weren’t quite perfect, but just kept finding a way to go in? For the Timberwolves to have any chance this series, they needed the Nuggets to play a bad game. And through twelve quarters, they’ve only dropped the ball in one of them.

A series isn’t over until a team wins four games. If the majority of the NBA is gathering around the life-support Timberwolves right now waiting for the final pronouncement, Sunday night is an opportunity for Anthony Edwards to walk off the Target Center court with his arms spread out like the King of Wakanda and make a postgame statement for all the NBA to hear: “As you can see, we are not dead yet.”