Count Fans among Wolves’ Heroes
As they so often do, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards led the Timberwolves in scoring last night, but there were other heroes, too, in Minnesota’s 119-118 playoff win over the Grizzlies at Target Center.
After the drama that evened the series at 2-2, guard Patrick Beverley gushed about the electric crowd who backed the team after a dreadful Game 3 loss Thursday evening when the Wolves blew a 26-point lead and lost 104-95. Talking to the Target Center crowd and the Bally Sports North TV audience, Beverley said the fans were the “reason we won this game.”
Coach Chris Finch praised the atmosphere and energy in the building while answering questions at his postgame presser. “It’s awesome. I’d like to play all my games at 9 o’clock, with a Twins game to get everybody warmed up.
“There’s been a great crowd all year. It’s been growing and growing and growing. It’s always been a tough place to play because the crowd is right on top of you here. …They were loud and our guys really responded well to it.”
Toward the end of Thursday night’s game at Target Center there were boos for the hometown team after the crowd had roared its approval for most of four quarters. Saturday night the fan base hadn’t forgotten the Thursday meltdown but was hopeful because of a season that has been a breakthrough for the franchise. Wolves Nation came alive this year as the team won 46 regular season games and made the playoffs for only the second time since 2004.
Target Center sellouts (19,832 last night) and crazed fans create positive vibes including for future owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez. Rumors of eventually relocating the franchise to another city are associated with their names. They have made it clear Target Center needs to be replaced with a new Wolves home in Minnesota but for now the support of the fans and their passion for this team has to influence Lore and Rodriguez who are buying majority control of the franchise from Glen Taylor.
Heroes among the Wolves’ players? Start where you want but Beverley deserves to have his name mentioned again. With 17 points, he was the team’s third leading scorer behind Towns’ 33 and Edwards’ 24. Just as noticeable was how the feisty guard dogged the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant, holding the regular season 27.4 points per game scorer to 11 points on four of 13 shooting.
It wasn’t just Beverley defending Morant, as the Wolves took a team approach to frustrating the All-Star point guard who had his fourth foul early in the third quarter and spent more than 14 minutes on the bench last night. Finch said the Grizzlies go “as Ja goes, and we did a good job of putting our body in his way.”
The most unlikely of heroes before the game was reserve guard Jordan McLaughlin who couldn’t be sure he would see any playing time. But he couldn’t have made more of his 14 minutes, making five of six shots including four-of-four three pointers. His 16 points was fourth best on the Wolves.
The winning team in the series each game has been the club with the most rebounds. Last night the Wolves not only had the most boards but held the Grizzlies to six offensive rebounds while limiting second chance points by Memphis.
Forward Jared Vanderbilt had eight rebounds, second for the Wolves behind Towns’ 14. Vanderbilt doesn’t concern opponents with his shooting but his physical style and hustle are intangibles Finch values. “We’re just a better team when he is out there,” Finch said.
The game Saturday night had all kinds of drama, including protestors who were quickly removed by security personnel. Of more interest to fans was seeing Edwards limping off the court about midway through the first quarter with an apparent knee injury. He headed for the locker room but by 3:41 in the quarter was back in the game.
Neither injury nor defenders have much success in slowing the gifted 20-year-old guard who has referred to himself as “Black Jesus.” He scored 20-plus points for the third time in the series and has been the most consistent performer of the team’s Big Three that includes Towns and guard D’Angelo Russell.
Edwards and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry (2013) are the only players in NBA postseason history to total four-plus three point field goals in their first four career playoff games. Edwards has 99 points through four those games and that’s more than any other Wolves player starting his playoff career.
It was “Ant” who made two free throws with eight seconds remaining in the game to put the Wolves ahead 117-112. Fittingly, Towns made two free throws seconds later to give Minnesota its final points in the narrow win.
The Wolves received 15 more free throw attempts than Memphis. Towns had a career playoff high converting 14 of 17 free throws. He scored 13 of his career playoff high 33 points in the fourth quarter. With his double-double in points and rebounds, KAT was the biggest of heroes last night.
In Beverley’s postgame TV comments, he quipped about his $31.6 million teammate. “We pay him all that money. We expect him to do that.”
For all the heroics and celebration last night, the game was close and not decided until the closing seconds. And in the four games so far there is this warning for Wolves’ fans: Memphis has outscored Minnesota by 22 points.
Tuesday night in Memphis one team will move ahead in the series but for now Wolves’ fans have satisfaction in knowing there will be a series Game 6 in Minneapolis Friday evening.