The game Sunday night was a perfect microcosm of the Timberwolves’ season. A relatively slow and meandering start, an explosive quarter where Target Center roared into life with the jet fuel that is a locked-in Edwards, followed by an agonizingly poor clutch time offense, and finally a special moment from a special player that allowed fans to leave the arena chanting Wolves in 7!
If that chant is a very Minnesotan brand of wry humor or if there is any actual belief behind it, who can say? Realistically, I think all fans are aware that the series most likely ends Tuesday. They barely hung on last night and despite three great Anthony Edwards games, they are still down 3-1 in the series. Yet, with our twenty-one-year-old All-Star, that 1% chance we have of making a series of it allows the fanbase a night of pride.
Jack Borman once again has a great recap of the action last night, otherwise, 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 4 Grade: 92% (A-)
Minnesota Mike returned to form on Sunday night with a smattering of big threes, an 8-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and his normal high basketball IQ both on both ends of the court.
For the Timberwolves to have any chance on Tuesday, Conley is going to need to be exactly what he was tonight: The floor general that knows exactly when to defer, when to target certain matchups, and when to get out of the way to let your best player cook.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker Game 4 Grade: 95% (A)
It’s hard to find the words that properly sum up Alexander-Walker’s impact on the game. I’m going to need to outsource this one:
Ah, thank you, Anthony Edwards. That will do.
NAW held Jamal Murray to 1/8 shooting, four assists, and three turnovers TOs. He was Murray’s shadow on the court for the majority of the game, picking him up full court and forcing the Nugget’s to look for other offensive options. Alexander-Walker’s individual defensive effort on Murray was one of the best defensive efforts of the season, and with a potential All-NBA defender currently sidelined, we’ve been lucky enough to see a few.
The reason Edwards was lauding Alexander-Walker’s late game heroism was those two massive corner 3s that NAW hit in overtime. While Edwards had the final dagger to end the game, that position doesn’t even happen without Alexander-Walker’s work on both ends of the court.
For the Timberwolves to have any chance on Tuesday, NAW is going to need to continue to hit those open threes because the Nuggets’ defense is going to keep giving them up.
Anthony Edwards Game 4 Grade: 95% (A)
Speaking of the final dagger, let’s check it out with our old friend Patrick Beverly:
What. a. moment. Edwards himself will tell you that he had been hunting those kinds of threes a little too much in the fourth quarter, but that doesn’t change the feeling of euphoria that washed over his face and the crowd when he hit it. Not since Kevin Garnett paced the Target Center floor have the fans felt this kind of connection to a player.
Consistent with who he has been all year, Edwards spent every postgame opportunity praising the work of his teammates and poking at his own mistakes. As he promised, the series is not over just yet.
For the Timberwolves to have any chance on Tuesday, Edwards needs to put the cape on once again and be an unstoppable offensive force delegating his will on the court.
Karl-Anthony Towns Game 4 Grade: 82% (B-)
Karl-Anthony Towns was really good on the defensive end of the floor Sunday night. Between guarding Nikola Jokić one-on-one, mixing between drop and high wall coverages, and being a force on the defensive glass, it was a standout performance for him on that end despite fouling out.
Offensively, it was a bit more of a mixed bag. Towns was 0-2 from 3-point range, and that’s just not enough volume from a shooter of his caliber. In terms of the grading system, I took assists out as that just hasn’t been a big part of his role. The Timberwolves switched to a heavier pick and roll style offense since game one, which means he’s doing a bit less offense initiation and more weak side attacking.
For the Timberwolves to have any chance on Tuesday night, Towns will need to replicate this defensive performance while adding in some All-Star level offense, specifically from three point range.
Rudy Gobert Game 4 Grade: 83% (B)
Gobert was much more effective on the defensive end last night, and that had a lot to do with Towns’ solid effort on Jokić that freed him up to be a defensive free safety. When he did get the Jokić matchup, he held the two-time MVP to 4/10 shooting, three assists and two TOs.
Gobert is on this team for his defensive acumen, but what kept the grade from going up higher was that it just wasn’t a good game offensively for the seven-footer. While normally a very efficient scorer, Gobert was 7/14 on the night, less effective with a higher volume.
Just like Towns, for the Timberwolves to have any chance on Tuesday night, Gobert’s offensive performance needs to match the efficiency of his defense.
Kyle Anderson Game 4 Grade: 94% (A)
Sunday night was Kyle Anderson’s best game of the series. Look at the impact score - on a per-minute basis, Anderson was the most impactful player on the floor. Steals, blocks, points, rebounds, assists, and he even made a three point field goal - it was a classic SloMo game that was shortened due to some incidental contact to his eye.
The already short-handed Timberwolves can’t afford to be missing another body come Tuesday night - hopefully there is already some good news out there by the time you are reading this.
For the Timberwolves to have any chance Tuesday night, the do-it-all “A” version of Kyle Anderson needs to be on the floor.
Update: With the news that Kyle Anderson is out for Tuesday night’s game, the Timberwolves need to use one of the two guys at the end of this article, or perhaps more likely, Nathan Knight since Anderson has been a sub for either Towns or Gobert. Josh Minott is the other option, but Chris Finch hasn’t given any indication that the rookie will get any playing time this season.
Taurean Prince Game 4 Grade: 65% (D)
With a 1/8 shooting performance, Prince’s numbers in this game were a fair reflection of his impact on winning. He wasn’t good enough last night, but the team around him picked up the slack.
On Tuesday, Prince needs to hit threes, score off the dribble, and find a way to keep up defensively with the athletic wings the Nuggets put out there.
Austin Rivers Game 4 Grade: 95% (A)
What an awesome performance from Austin Rivers. He came in, played solid defense, hit big shots, and gave the Timberwolves something they’ve desperately been looking for since game one of the series: a consistent effort off the bench.
This is the exact effort the Timberwolves will need from their newly-minted eighth man.
Jaylen Nowell and Jordan McLaughlin Game 4 Grade: 35% (F)
No interest in the piling-on business here. Whether it’s injury, matchup, or just a slump, neither player has flashed anything close to their best selves on the court. With the way that Austin Rivers played in game four, the eight-man rotation for the Timberwolves should be set for Tuesday night.
“For the Timberwolves to have any chance Tuesday night…”
On Tuesday night, the Denver Nuggets are going to come out angry and ready to end this Timberwolves season. Their arena is going to be raucous, there is a decent chance the whistle will tilt in their favor, and a team with championship aspirations will be extra motivated to prove that Sunday night was just a fluke.
For the Timberwolves to have any chance Tuesday, they are going to need an “A” grade game from every player who sees the floor.
They have not done that yet this season. In fact, one of the consistent flaws of this team is an inability to get all of their pieces going at the same time, something fans have been desperate for since game one.
Expecting the team to do something different from its eighty-eight games of the season might fall under the definition of insanity. But on the other hand…
Wolves in 7.