The scoreboard showed 104 for both teams. Minnesota only needed to play calmly and efficiently on both sides of the field to keep their season going. They were too inexperienced to pull off the necessary victories, however.
The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic grabbed two offensive rebounds and finished the play with a tip-in, despite two 7-footers on the court. After Jokic drew Karl-Anthony Towns’ last foul, he scored to make it a five-point game. Although Mike Conley made it a two-point game, Rudy Gobert’s sixth foul ended his team’s comeback attempt.
The Timberwolves might have tied the game as late as the last 2.5 seconds of regulation. Anthony Edwards was fed the ball and blasted a long triple over Bruce Brown’s extended arms. The Timberwolves’ season was over when his attempt to score struck the back of the net.
The Timberwolves’ acquisition of Gobert in the summer was motivated by aspirations to become a championship contender. The two were an odd pairing, but their brilliance was undeniable. It’s especially moving since Towns and Gobert could do nothing except watch the game end from the sidelines. It reflected the same lack of availability of the two at this time of year.
Due to his calf ailment, Towns missed an incredible 53 games. Using their stature to their advantage throughout the regular season was a strategy that was quickly undermined. Minnesota needed to find a way to make up for the loss of Towns’ scoring by finding other sources of offense.
Gobert is another option. He was tasked with becoming Town’s defensive partner. Gobert’s job was to limit the opposition’s scoring opportunities to counteract Towns’ offensive prowess. For most of the year, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year hardly resembled his former self. He still could record 20 points and ten rebounds every game. His intensity as the go-to guy in the paint for Utah was noticeably absent from his play in Minnesota.
Without their two leaders, the Timberwolves were forced to reinvent themselves quickly.
Jokic’s clutch performance as the Nuggets sealed the deal with time running out was also telling. Like a player deserving of the MVP award, he took control of the situation.
All season long, Minnesota has struggled with this issue. As for the West, they need to prepare. Jokic, LeBron James, and Steph Curry were not the only talents other teams relied on to win. The fact that some very young teams were successful because of the efforts of guys like Ja Morant and De’Aaron Fox was not a helping factor, either.
Even if this season has been a wash, the team’s last game still has a chance to win. The game-tying shot by Edwards was off by millimeters. Minnesota could have extended their season by five more fun if he had taken that shot with a little more loft.
Millimeters. Just like that, Edwards will become a household name. As a player, he broke out this season. A new team leader emerged from the ashes of the failed twin tower project. Edwards has often shown this season that he can carry the team on his back, and they will still cross the finish line in the first place.
Despite his setback, it was inspiring to see him try again. He was the team’s tallest player even when his two colleagues were down. There may not be a superstar on the Timberwolves just yet, but there is one on the verge of breaking through to the level of the league’s top franchise players.