For a normal game, I would start this article out by saying that the Minnesota Timberwolves just had their biggest win of the season over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, setting themselves up for two postseason games after a rocky season that had many questioning if that would even happen.
But that would be burying the lede in historical fashion.
Where does one even begin to unpack the series of events that concluded with the Wolves grinding out a win at Target Center that vaulted them into the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and set up a second date with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday?
Do we start with the multiple punches thrown on separate occasions that resulted in multiple key players ending their day early? The sleepy start that saw Brandon Ingram post a career-high 27 points at the first half? Or the impassioned two-way finish on the part of the Wolves that saw them capture an elusive home win and position in the Western Conference standings?
Pick your poison. But Head Coach Chris Finch may have summed it up best of all in seven words after the game.
“Absolute wild one; microcosm of our season,” he said.
Almost to a T.
Act I: What The Hell is Going On?
Minnesota came out at the beginning looking like a team coming off of a back to back. Sluggish. Slow. Unable to get a rebound. Rudy Gobert a card-carrying member of this contingent.
Gobert was a late add to the injury report heading into Sunday with back spasms, which is normally not a good sign for a player’s availability. He had tweaked his back the previous day against the San Antonio Spurs and it had worsened in the hours proceeding.
The degree of injury was unknown, but Gobert was surprisingly made available. Yet said degree of injury was clearly showing its warts.
Gobert did not look like himself. He was moving slow, and essentially used as a screen setter. Rebounds evaded him frequently, leaving New Orleans with a staggering six offensive rebounds in the first quarter.
He was a step slow. The effort to contain the ball by the four sharing the floor with him was non-existent. The percolation began as Ingram sliced through everyone like a hot knife through butter; and under the pressure of Game 82 that would determine just how much leash the Timberwolves would get in the play-in tournament before their season reached its conclusion, baking soda met vinegar in a timeout challenge by Kyle Anderson directed Gobert’s way.
Oh my Rudy Gobert just threw a punch at his own teammate Kyle Anderson pic.twitter.com/6GP5wwkCqW— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 9, 2023
Each player had an argument to be made. No one was playing well. Fans were getting deja vu and had little patience for what was going on in front of them. But Rudy “Draymond Green” Gobert escalated it. And of course, Draymond chimed in.
Rudy Gobert tweeted this after Draymond Green's altercation with Jordan Poole.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 9, 2023
Today, Draymond responded after Gobert's altercation pic.twitter.com/AOLILn4L7o
“Certainly not something we condone,” Finch added. “I don’t want to be too hard on him...guys were just frustrated. We weren’t playing well, not sharing the ball. The gravity of the game made if feel like we were in panic mode.”
My un-welcomed two cents? It was a complete lack of professionalism that pulled back the player psyche towards an arena that’s been a pressure cooker all season; that boiled over interpersonally on the floor. When you’re a veteran, a supposed leader that’s been brought in with the weight behind you, it’s an unbelievable lapse in all judgement.
After getting a read on what was said between the two, it’s fair to say similar arguments have been had at recess basketball at elementary schools everywhere.
ESPN Sources: Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert escalated a verbal argument to a physical encounter after Kyle Anderson told him to “Shut the f--- up, bitch.” The disagreement started with Anderson telling Gobert to block some shots, Gobert telling him to grab a rebound – and ended with a…— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 9, 2023
What saved a complete train derailment was an incredibly important win.
Anderson after the game said it’s not the first time he’s been swung on, and that he and Gobert will move on and be okay. Mike Conley said Gobert has taken the first step towards reconciliation. What comes next, nobody knows.
Mike Conley says Rudy Gobert already has sent a message in the group chat apologizing for his role in the altercation. Wolves seem like a team ready to move forward.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) April 9, 2023
And that, folks, is punch No. 1.
UPDATE: Gobert has tweeted and apologized publicly about the situation.
Emotions got the best of me today. I should not have reacted the way i did regardless of what was said. I wanna apologize to the fans, the organisation and particularly to Kyle, who is someone that i truly love and respect as a teammate.— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) April 10, 2023
Act II: McDaniels vs. the Wall (Wall Wins by TKO)
In another head-scratching event that discharged yet another fist from a Wolves starter, this time against an inanimate object, Jaden McDaniels is abruptly done for what seems like the season.
McDaniels had the tall task of guarding a scorching hot Ingram, and got subbed out after picking up his second foul early and starting 0-2 from the field. He subsequently headed to the tunnel, and what happened afterwards is now etched in stone; and the metal rod that holds up the Timberwolves canvas tunnel.
Jaden McDaniels punched a wall on the way to the locker room— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 9, 2023
He is out the rest of the game with a hand injury pic.twitter.com/QVGMp1hful
McDaniels was diagnosed with a fractured right hand — his shooting hand — and will presumably miss the rest of the season.
Finch after the game deemed it an “unprofessional” decision — one Jaden has to learn from. Not only is it a teaching moment for McDaniels himself, but an impromptu one for the Wolves. They’ll be missing their best perimeter defender and one of their best shooters against LeBron James.
Ideal? Not one bit.
ACT III: The Grand Finale
The best for last, and a sniff of roses after a couple sections that probably smelled more like a landfill. And there’s no lede to bury here.
Karl-Anthony Towns had his best game since coming back from injury. By far.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, and get the job done,” Towns said afterward.
He did that and more, finishing with a game-high 12 fourth-quarter points. That included three straight massive 3s from very deep that led to the Wolves claiming their first sizable lead of the game.
“It all stemmed from finding defensive rhythm,” Finch said. “We were able to get out an run and shake him loose.”
Towns benefitted from getting downhill to start his offense in transition, getting drop passes from Anderson, Conley, and others to unleash him downhill which led to stop-and-pop threes.
Editorializing, this was also the first game back for Towns where I felt like he was the team’s heartbeat. He had a team-high seven first quarter points for a half-asleep squad out of the gate, and emotionally led the charge back in the fourth that saw the Wolves usurp the Pelicans’ game-long lead. He was, without question, awesome. And it’s fun to watch him round back into form again.
“I got a lot on my back. I can do a lot on the court,” Towns said. “Just seeing what the defense was giving me, and...I’m just happy I was able to hit those shots for our team in a game where we really needed it.”
Following the lead of Towns in quarter four was an electric showing from Anthony Edwards.
Anthony Edwards on Karl-Anthony Towns' big second half (17 points, 4/4 from 3):— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) April 10, 2023
“That’s Karl, man. That’s what he do. I told him, ‘Go out there and be you.’ Can’t nobody stop him. Can’t nobody stop you. That’s what he did. I love him, that’s my brother.”
Edwards started the game off sleepy, tended to be a bit of a ball-stopper on offense, and was two for his fist nine from the field. He added on one for his first four from the free throw line, as well.
But he was really solid defensively all game. Particularly when he drew the Ingram matchup.
“He took the challenge of Ingram from early on. Thought he did a really good job in the first half of setting the tone on him,” added Finch. “Tonight I think his defense was what lifted us more than anything else.”
The defensive lift secondly came in the form of a crucial block on CJ McCollum at the end of the game, and turning into an and one that punched the Wolves ticket. It was the best sequence of basketball I have ever seen live, and up there for one of the best sequences I have ever seen period.
Anthony Edwards incredible block + finish through contact, wow pic.twitter.com/PKUfH06ZE6— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 9, 2023
This is the Edwards needed to advance to the playoffs and extend a series, and exactly what they need in the impending absence of McDaniels. McCollum was able to find his floater seamlessly at times, and the gravity of that play late cannot be overstated on what it meant for the Wolves entire season and what it could mean moving forward.
Sunday was a mostly-averted disaster. The Wolves accomplished what they set out to do, crossing massive chasms on their quest to take care of business. The resiliency absolutely cannot go without commendation. The fallout of the Anderson/Gobert squabble is all to be determined, and we’ll know more about the layers beneath it as time goes on. Frankly, the worst part is that it’s a massive storm cloud over what is supposed to be a celebration of a second straight postseason berth for an a franchise entrenched in misery.
But in ways, it just feels all too fitting.
Minnesota @ Los Angeles Lakers - Tuesday, 9:00 PM CT, TNT
- Winner will play Memphis in round one, loser will play the winner of the 9/10 game (Thunder @ Pelicans)