The game went to double overtime. DeMar DeRozan had 49 points. Zach LaVine had 39. And the Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t have a player score more than Mike Conley’s 28.
It was indicative of a heartbreaker for the Wolves against the Chicago Bulls that almost turned out perfectly, even though the worst had already happened.
With just 4:03 left in the first quarter, Anthony Edwards came down awkwardly on his ankle and let out a scream in pain, pounding the floor and forcing a stoppage in play. He left the game, and was not able to put any pressure walking on it.
Anthony Edwards had to be helped back to the locker room after rolling his ankle while making a jump pass on this play.— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 18, 2023
Hope he's okay pic.twitter.com/RvJwRaNemF
“We knew it was real and I knew it was going to be bad,” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterwards. “My reaction is obviously I’m concerned for Ant, but had got to try and refocus and go.”
For the most part, the refocusing was a success. The Wolves led for most of the game, fueled by the two main Utah Jazz players they acquired over the last eight months and Jaden McDaniels; a potential omen of what’s on the horizon should Edwards miss time (personally, I don’t think there’s a shot he plays Saturday in Toronto; and it would be surprising to see an immediate return after that).
It almost didn’t matter for tonight. The Wolves had a two point lead with almost zero shot clock separation and the ball. Conley brought it up the floor and zipped it over to Taurean Prince just before halfcourt. Then the worst possible scenario happened.
ZACH FOR THE TIE ‼️@ZachLaVine | @NBCSChicago pic.twitter.com/AFVWIVRFDJ— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 18, 2023
The latest edition in a season of disparaging and soul-sucking losses. One to be remembered for just how damaging it could end up being, but also potentially to be remembered if the ship can stay afloat due to a couple optimistic themes.
Conley’s Career Night
The Wolves point man posted a career high in three-pointers with eight, and looked incredibly comfortable orchestrating the offense. He finished with a team-high 28 points and was second on the squad in assists with six. He was awesome shooting the ball off screens, and had a really good sense of when to step up and take a few more shots.
“I definitely get the sense he knows when to step up and be aggressive and take the big shot; he did that all night tonight,” he said. “It’s been key for us...now it’s going to be key again.”
Rudy Gobert was the source of a lot of those screens Conley came off of.
“I think Mike’s gonna do what the defense gives him, If the defense is gonna go under, he’s gonna punish them,” he explained. “Once they understand they can’t go under on Mike Conley, then we’re gonna get an advantage, and then he’s gonna find his teammates.”
Conley is ' it!— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) March 18, 2023
5⃣ triples on the night for Money Mike. #RaisedByWolves pic.twitter.com/UHbCiGvAv6
“Once Ant when out I was like ‘I now have to kinda be looking for my offense a lot more’,” Conley said afterward. “I had started to in the past few weeks…just starting to get more acclimated with the team, and now with him out it’s just going to have to be more aggressive, more assertive, and just get the ball in my hands a lot more and try to get in pick and rolls a lot more and try to create a lot more.”
Gobert, McDaniels, SlowMo Lighten the Load
Jaden McDaniels post his career high in points with 25, and was particularly big down the stretch.
Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gobert? They posted statlines that vaulted them into the same sentence as Kevin Garnett.
SlowMo played 51 minutes posted his third triple double of the season with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists. Only Kevin Garnett has more triple doubles in a season in Wolves history.
Rudy Gobert was the first Timberwolf since Garnett to post 21 points, 19 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
Gobert tonight:— StatMuse (@statmuse) March 18, 2023
First Timberwolves player to reach those numbers in a game since Kevin Garnett. pic.twitter.com/3USMDZeNxl
“Offensively he was a huge impact guy, just rolling and fighting for offensive rebounds, keeping things alive,” Finch said. “[He was also] really good as that second-line defender.”
The Bulls are a tough team to play drop against with DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine. DeRozan is known widely as one of the best mid-range scorers in the league, and Lavine late in the game Friday killed the Wolves with contested leaners from the elbow. It wasn’t a perfect fit scheme-wise, but Gobert was excellent at deterring drives, lowering shot percentage at the rim, and erasing shots with his block count.
Rudy Gobert block + dunk, assisted by Jaden McDaniels pic.twitter.com/jfx2cRz4VS— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) March 18, 2023
Him, Conley, and Anderson had excellent chemistry when he went to the basket, and some possessions, regardless of ball handler, looked like his Utah days running spread pick and roll with a corner kickout.
Jaden McDaniels clutch 3, assisted by Kyle Anderson pic.twitter.com/Z9jovwVnYx— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) March 18, 2023
For how the game ended up, this article has a lot of rose-tinted glasses. There might even be a small amount of copium. No, I don’t expect the team to have its legs in Toronto Saturday night.
It was a crushing loss under crushing circumstances with crushing plays that sealed the deal. But it was an incredibly holistic as a performance given the two best players being out. A lot of people leaned in. But a fatal side effect of essentially having to play half of your first unit and half of your second unit is role players making mistakes in starter roles.
The massive question that looms over this team as tomorrow comes into focus is simple; how do you keep the train on the tracks in a standings situation that needs attention now rather than later, with your top two bucket getters rejoining you on the former of that equation?
The season sits on that answer.