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Wolves 119, Kings 115: Finch Ruins the Clinch

Seven players score at least 14 points as Minnesota spoils the party in Sacramento, propelling themselves into the sixth seed and out of the play-in tournament.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leo Sun: Before getting into the game, I want to start by acknowledging yet another senseless mass shooting that occurred yesterday in Nashville, Tennessee at The Covenant School. More and more innocent lives are being taken while families and communities are suffering from the lack of action to address the very obvious gun reform issues in this country. It is unacceptable. Although this is a sports-based outlet, I recognize and understand that we are a community here at Canis Hoopus and often use this space to have discourse about topics such as this.
Please continue to check on your friends, families, & loved ones, but also take necessary time to find ways to heal yourself. You can visit Mental Health Hotline for free 24/7 assistance.

Game Story

The Start

The entire city of Sacramento was buzzing. It has been 16 years since they last made the postseason and if you ask many Kings fans, they would tell you that this season has been worth the wait. Sure, those feelings may come from a bit of recency bias. However, the Sacramento Kings have been very good all season. Like, all-time NBA best offense good. A victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves on their own home court would mean a mathematic end to that drought.

As one of the many franchises that have dubbed their fanbase as “the best fans in professional sports,” they put their money where their mouth is and lined all 18,151 seats in Golden 1 Center with “SACRAMENTO 6” t-shirts for everyone in attendance. Those shirts reference their home crowd as the “6th Man of the Year,” as they so proudly display in their rafters.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

There are times where sports franchises juice their own numbers and announce a sellout crowd, but tonight was not one of them. It was difficult to spot a vacant seat before tip-off as the fans were chomping at the bit to see their team take down an up-and-down Wolves team who were on the end of a road-road, back-to-back scenario. The building was bumping.

Challenge accepted.

Jaden McDaniels (20/3/2) matters into his own hands early. In the post game press conference, Chris Finch said that they didn’t intentionally lean on Slim, but he was willing to roll with him as the primary offensive option. It took McDaniels just over seven minutes of game time to rattle off 13 points on a perfect 6/6 display. His aggressiveness led to many boons for the the Wolves:

  1. Immediately took the home crowd out of the game.
  2. Put Kevin Huerter in the Wolves crosshairs, eventually leading to foul trouble.
  3. Opened the flood gates for his teammates to get better looks.
  4. Pushed Minnesota to a 13-point lead in the first quarter.

It felt as though McDaniels knew that Anthony Edwards, who continued to show rust and physical limitations from his ankle injury, needed someone else to take the reins of the offense. Help also came in the form of Rudy Gobert (16/16/4/2), who continued his strong play by cleaning things up against an undersized team, and Naz Reid (18/4/1), who also kept shining by dominating any and all defenders in his path. A spirited effort from the entire roster kept Minnesota ahead by at least three possessions throughout the first 20 minutes of the game.

The Meat

As if sensing the wanning confidence of a once hyped up crowd, the Kings made their move towards the end of the first half. Domantas Sabonis (24/10/4), who spent most of the game getting away with grabbing and pulling at Gobert to unsuccessfully keep him off the boards, rammed his way into the paint and chipped away at the Wolves lead. Not to be outdone by McDaniels, De’Aaron Fox (29/4/6) returned from a one-game absence due to a hamstring issue to score 15 of his own points in the quarter, slicing up Minnesota’s interior defense. By the time the horn sounded to signal halftime, the Kings had battled all the way back to take a 54-53 lead with the crowd very much alive again.

They could hear the clinch.

They could almost taste the clinch.

The entire third quarter was a tug-of-war between the two western conference postseason hopefuls. Kyle Anderson (15/4/11/2) continued to be the proverbial “adult in the room” for the Wolves, keying important defensive stops and chipping in perfectly timed buckets when nothing else seemed to be working. Sabonis and Slow Mo were the head of the snakes for their respective clubs, each tallying 10-point quarters. Before you knew it, both teams would spend the entire third period within 3-points of one another.

The Finish

The fourth quarter followed suit for the first three minutes. It felt like a game of chicken with neither team ready to bat an eye. A score would be responded to by an accompanying score. A stop would be met with a stop by the other team. The powder keg was reaching a tipping point in the arena until someone finally set it off.

Naz Reid unleashed hell on Alex Len, silencing the crowd aside from a few pesky Timberwolves fans in the building. Shortly thereafter, Reid would follow that up with a three-point make, pushing Minnesota ahead 99-93 with 8:34 remaining. To their credit, the Kings didn’t roll over. Despite a difficult night scoring the ball from three (18.5%), they continued to pound the ball inside which helped them “draw” an astonishing 40 free throws. They average 25.6 FTA per game.

But then came the dagger.

That Slim throwdown came just over five minutes after one of his best friends had done the same thing in the same location. Just like he started the game by putting the Wolves up double-digits, that McDaniels hammer reclaimed it in the wanning moments.

The Kings never got within a single possession again.

When it was all said and done, it was a complete effort from the Timberwolves top to bottom. Seven of the nine players who played scored at least 14 points. They controlled their possessions by turning the ball over just six times. They survived a horrendous night at the charity stripe (22/34) by stifling their opponent on the defensive end. A masterclass of a coaching effort despite both of their All-Stars either being unavailable or extremely limited. The result was not just an impressive road victory, but a move into the top six of the Western Conference standings and out of the play-in tournament.

The road ahead may be short, but it will still be filled with twists and turns. That said, Minnesota should go to sleep feeling good that Coach Finch is at the wheel.

Game Highlights

Lead Tracker via NBA Courtside

Canis Hoopus Comment of the Night

I would watch a movie about this directed by PF

What’s Next

The Wolves touched down in Arizona this morning, giving them all of Tuesday to get settled in. They get the task of dealing with Kevin Durant’s return with the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday 3/29 @ 9:00pm CT. This is yet another crucial conference game that will have playoff seeding implications as Minnesota looks to extend their win-streak to five.