Player Ratings: Play-In Game One | Los Angeles Lakers
The shorthanded Wolves meltdown late.
Nothing about that unsophisticated excuse for a basketball game was a surprise.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, threadbare and still clearing the smoke that plumed from their latest dysfunction, were heavy underdogs heading into a game against the league-darling Los Angeles Lakers. It wasn’t a surprise that they lost. But the Timberwolves almost exclusively turn up to play when they’re the ones written off. It wasn’t a surprise that they had the ascendency for most of the night and battled harder than they had any right to battle. Still, they are notorious for falling apart in new and disparaging ways. Their late-game meltdown wasn’t surprising. Their foundations are built upon Jekyll and Hyde stars, role players and head coach, so having them flip between unstoppable and unwatchable is the least surprising development of them all.
The game ends 108-102. Brutal. In a season full of daggers plunged into the midriff of the organization, this felt like a thousand more deep gashes. The Timberwolves had their chances. They had them over and over again. In many ways, they need only to avoid carving their own foot off with a rusty hacksaw to secure the seventh seed and set a date with the Memphis Grizzlies. Alas, they leave footless and embarrassed again.
We’ve seen this kind of night play out a dozen times or more. It’s a rerun of an old shitty spaghetti western that you can’t turn off, a manifestation of everything promising and everything pulverizing about this team. It’s the crumbs that keep us licking our lips and the rot that keeps our stomach turning. The dichotomy of a .500 team played out in the most bizarre and barbarous way.
By the end of the first period they were no longer easy-beats. By halftime they were pesky enough to have the one-sided media, the fat cats in the league office, and the Lakers fan base starting to perspire profusely. By midway through the third quarter, they were resounding favorites. This team doesn’t do things the easy way, though. None of that felt surprising and neither did the predictable fall from grace.
While the defensive output that had been fantastic all evening remained steadfast throughout the entirety of regulation, the offense that is always prone to collapsing fell in on itself like a dying star. The flame that burned so brightly was snuffed in an instant. Mike Conley knocked down a 3-pointer with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter and drilled three free throws to send the game to overtime with 0.1 seconds remaining. Between then, the Wolves were a chasm where beautiful offense goes to die.
Six scoreless minutes, six minutes where even the most meager smattering of productivity would have punched their playoff ticket. Six minutes of complete and utter incompetence from every individual involved. Six minutes this team will rue for a long time.
Somehow, they manage to drag their limp bodies into an overtime period, but they make just two field goals in those five minutes and watch on helplessly as the Lakers pull away.
Worst of all, none of it felt surprising.
Mike Conley: 9/10
I mean, what else can you ask from him?
In professional basketball terms, he is nearer to the grave than the cradle, and yet he keeps turning up and putting in performances of a fucking prime-time star. He was the best player in Minnesota colors in this game. The most composed, the most assured, the most likely to win them a game they had no business winning.
Even when the offense slowed to a sludgy porridge, he continuously tried to find open shooters and if he wasn’t ignored on at least three open looks, he might have nailed the shot to break the dam wall. It wasn’t just his big-stones free throws to send it into overtime, it was the barrage of timely triples, the fast hands and quick feet defensively and the ability to marshal the offense every time he was entrusted with head of the snake duties.
They needed more heads as cool as his. Instead they got a bunch of flaming skulls that ended up burning the whole thing to the ground.
Finished with 23 points (93.3% TS), 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in 44 minutes — 0.0 net rating.
Anthony Edwards: 2/10
If there is one thing we’ve learned about him in his young career it’s that he loves the big moments. He rises like a chiseled fucking Herculean god for the big moments. We’ve seen it in playoff series, big regular season games, and even this exact fixture last season. Of all of the ill-fitting pieces on this roster, he’s the one who can be relied upon to cherish the bright lights.
That’s why it felt so strange and stung so badly to watch him shit the bed. Like, completely dismantle the sheets. He had strung together fistfuls of stifling defensive possessions and quick ball-movement offensive possessions before he landed hard on his shoulder and seemingly every other bone in his body, but after that he was a nuclear missile landing in the lap of his own squad.
Nothing worked. The dribble-moves went nowhere. The shot was broken. The drives were hesitant and reeking of pain or cluelessness or both. The awareness of the shot clock and the game situation was non-existent. The entire thing was like watching a car crash in slow motion, unable to turn away or intervene.
Young players need scar tissue to grow, and this was an almighty wound.
Finished with 9 points (24% TS), 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in 43 minutes — -3.5 net rating.
Taurean Prince: 7/10
Much like the rest of this stupid fucking team, he had a weird night. Mostly good, sprinklings of great, some definite bad — but certainly weird.
When they were percolating, he was in the thick of it, relishing every millisecond of the scrap and the fight. To go along with his four long-bombs, he was providing about as much resistance as humanly possible on LeBron James and proving that he can also switch onto Trust-Fund Reaves and Benched-For-The-Night Russell. Without a strangely game-saving slide tackle from LeBron, Prince probably gets a steal and score to win the game, too.
However, he was also part of the problem when things went badly awry. Not the root cause, not even the one expected to pull them out of the shit, but a periphery problem nonetheless. With everybody seemingly too frightened to take matters into their own hands and the coaching staff in a slumber on the sidelines, Prince was often left to try and attack a seam or make something happen late in the shot clock. Most of the time it went poorly and the other times it went fucking horrendously.
To top off his weird night, he misses the corner look that would have sent the game to double overtime and both fanbases into five more minutes of unyielding torture.
Finished with 14 points (63.6% TS), 3 rebounds and 3 steals in 43 minutes — -2.6 net rating.
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