Shipley: Next step for Timberwolves, get out of their own way
The Wolves led by 10 early in the fourth quarter before falling 114-106 to get bounced from the playoffs
By Game 6, the question wasn’t whether the Timberwolves were good enough to beat the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Some suspected they could before this best-of-seven, first-round series started, and anyone who has been watching now knows it.
The Timberwolves were good enough to beat the Memphis Grizzlies. They have the talent and the athletes and the coaching. By Friday, the question was whether Minnesota could finally get out of its own way.
The Timberwolves blew another double-digit second-half lead, this time as big as 13 points early in the third quarter, and were eliminated from their second NBA postseason since 2004 with a 114-106 loss to Memphis at Target Center.
The Timberwolves blew fourth-quarter leads of 25 points in a Game 3 loss at home, and 13 in Tuesday’s Game 5 loss in Memphis. It was a rare achievement; no NBA playoff team had ever done it before. On Friday, they did it again, blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter to push their dubious achievement even further from the reach of the NBA’s perennial underachievers.
And this time, they were out of do-overs.
Memphis, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, “is a really, really good team.”
“They don’t beat themselves,” he said. “We don’t have that in us yet.”
Game 6 seemed as if it were decided in a flash. The Timberwolves were up, 99-97, with 3:46 remaining, then were outscored 17-7. But really, one could at least hear it coming down the tracks.
Although the Timberwolves led 52-49 at intermission, their offense was falling into the bad habits that had killed their chances in their other three losses.
Karl-Anthony Towns was taking on triple teams in the paint instead of kicking out, Anthony Edwards was dribbling idly at the top of the key until the fates tapped him on the shoulder so he could attack the basket.
Minnesota was wowing a boisterous Target Center sellout with big plays – a mighty Towns flush, three straight 3-pointers by Jaden McDaniels, a steal and dunk by Malik Beasley – while on the other end the Grizzlies were hanging on by doing the little things: Tip-ins, offensive rebounds, disarming double teams by finding the open man.
Finch got his team’s attention at intermission. The Wolves came out passing as if they were on a mandatory threshold. When the Grizzlies collapsed low, Towns kicked it back out. When Ant couldn’t find a seam, he found the other guard for a reset. Sure enough, Minnesota built their lead to 13 with more than seven minutes left in the third period.
It didn’t last.
The Wolves still had some magic in the hat. They took a 91-84 lead on consecutive dunks by Jaden McDaniel and Towns. Those two each blocked shot attempts by Ja Morant with under four minutes to play.
But on the other end, Memphis kept doing what they do: rebounding and finding the open man. Minnesota made some spectacular plays late, but they made more terrible ones. Point guard D’Angelo Russell was stripped on consecutive possessions while on the other end, Desmond Bane followed an offensive rebound with a 3-pointer that tied the game 94-94.
The Wolves got tight and the possessions got shorter. Faced with tough shots, they took them and missed instead of looking for a better one.
Minnesota was ahead 99-97 when KAT raked Brandon Clarke across the face and was called for a flagrant foul. It was the beginning of the end. Although the Wolves were still ahead, one could feel the air coming out of the sellout crowd.
Should the Timberwolves have one this series, or is Memphis just better? Well, yes and yes. As noted, Minnesota’s three late collapses are historic; yeah, they should have won at least two of those games. On the other hand, Memphis just generally played better, had fewer lousy possessions.
The Timberwolves have a lot to learn and if we’re being honest, we all knew it. At least now we also know they’re close – closer than they’ve been since Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell were running the Target Center floor.
“I thought composure-wise, again, we showed it in our shot selection in the fourth, and it’s baked in our DNA right now,” Finch said. “And we know we have to learn from this.”