Player Ratings: Playoffs Game Two | Denver Nuggets
Wolves can't complete the comeback in Denver.
That was the full 2022-23 Minnesota Timberwolves experience, laid bare over the course of 48 minutes. That was the spectrum, that vast and confounding spectrum that only the Wolves reside on, sliding from the deepest and darkest depths to the brightest of peaks. If you had to grind this entire duplicitous season into one single granule, this was it.
That was everything that fans have come to despise about this team, the spells of unfathomable incompetence gurgling in a melting pot with some awful officiating, star-level players melting down on the big stage, and the weird feeling of disappointment at the end of it all. It was everything that keeps us sullenly crawling back into the arms of this wanton team, though, too. The same mesmerizing incantation that keeps us enchanted with this stupid franchise. The patches of dominance, the innate knack to keep fighting when all hope is burned to a pile of ashes, and the shining phenom at the axis of it all.
The game ends 122-113. So close, yet so far. A whisper away from turning the series onto its head and bedding all the narratives that have bubbled up around this team, at least for a few days. They swung through all the notches on that aforementioned spectrum, coming ever so close to a supernatural conquest, but the scoreline doesn’t lie and, as such, the series score has them pinned to the ground.
It couldn’t have started worse. Instead of arresting the rot that spread through the team in the second half of game one, the Timberwolves allowed it to fester and spread like a particularly aggressive cancer. With the help of their stodgy offense, non-existent transition defense, and overall befuddlement under the gaze of a boisterous Denver crowd, the Wolves seemed dead in the water by the end of the first period. And the Nuggets smelled it. They seem to be drawn to it like hungry great whites. They scurried around it, and the second quarter was a feeding frenzy.
That was it. Still with so much basketball to be played, it felt like the death of Minnesota’s chances. All the hard work to scrap through this jungle of a season and scrape into the playoffs, all whisked away without a whimper. Then, as they do, the Timberwolves gathered a second wind where no gusts were foreseeable. Through eight minutes of the third period, what had been a 21-point Denver lead was now a tie game. What had been a funeral in Wolves World had become a party. After six quarters of self-inflicted peril, Minnesota felt free again, capable of doing
something anything everything to make Denver sweat.
That rage was hard to maintain, though. They didn’t wilt under Denver’s increased sunlight in the fourth, but they couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the one seed, their armored knight in Jamal Murray with his array of long-range assaults and a barrage of team-wide flopping. It was a valiant effort, the kind that makes you believe some success might be awaiting them in their home gym, but perhaps not the kind that could see them summit the enormous hill they now have to climb.
Mike Conley: 7/10
There still feels like there needs to be more. Be it from a personal aggression standpoint or a coaching leash standpoint, it’s pretty clear that he has the mental fortitude and the seasoned bollocks to hold his own against a team as fearsome as Denver. Rather than a tertiary-at-best role, he needs to be weaponized and he needs to weaponize himself.
Good things happened when he was the beacon of assertion. When he decided to score, he was able to knock down a couple of pull-up treys, scuttle to the rim when he was switched onto Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon, and profit off floaters in his empty-corner two-man game with Rudy Gobert. When he was handling the ball with the intention to playmake, he was able to spoon-feed his French giant for three dunks in three different scenarios, set up Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, and feed Taurean Prince for a pair of sniper shots.
They need more of that. Politics and predefined roles and salaries be damned.
Finished with 14 points (67.8% TS) and 7 assists in 38 minutes — -10.5 net rating.
Anthony Edwards: 10/10
There he is. The one. He’s some player, this kid. The bee’s knees. The fucking duck’s nuts. The gold nugget who twinkles brightly among the mud and grime that this franchise keeps trying to hurl in front of our eyes. It stings that the final score will ultimately scrub away some of the luster of this performance in the annals of time, because this was one of those nights where he deserved every plaudit and every superlative.
Watching him stand up was special. He wasn’t the only one who raised their level after the halftime interval, but he was the wolf who stood at the front of the pack with a snarling growl and a bloody maw. He wasn’t just in his bag, he emptied that fucker all over the court and it was he who finally struck the first match that made Denver reach for their fire blanket.
He was quiet without being harmful in the first half, but after the break he started running misses down Denver’s throat, attacking relentlessly off Gobert ball screens, and forcing Denver’s rim-defenders to make decisions they were hesitant to make. Once the fire was lit, he was whipping out fall-away jumpers and coming up with blocks, steals and all manner of momentum-turning plays defensively.
He’s the plan now. For this series, for the future, for the franchise. Everything must be geared toward him.
Finished with 41 points (77.3% TS), 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks in 42 minutes — -2.1 net rating.
Taurean Prince: 6/10
Usually, if he nails four triples, it’s a good Taurean Prince night. There is no way they can beat the Nuggets (or most teams right now) without having him there as the pressure release valve. So, when he does rain a quartet of flaming arrows, he should be getting more praise than a measly six.
Discipline killed him, though. Not the kind of ill-discipline we’ve seen this team have. He didn’t try to knock out a wall or throw a straight right in a huddle or admonish Ed Malloy and his merry band of fuckheads, but he did pick up five fouls in 18 minutes. Three of them came on jump shots, a cardinal sin, and his final straw — inexplicably encroaching on Michael Porter Jr.’s space on a made 3-pointer to punt away Minnesota’s flimsy fourth-quarter lead — was one of the many nails hammered into their coffin as the time dwindled.
He wants to be aggressive, in many ways he needs to be aggressive, but that aggression leaked out of orifices that were best kept sealed.
Finished with 12 points (67.6% TS) and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes — -23.1 net rating.
Karl-Anthony Towns: 2/10
His playoff doppelgänger was back again. Not the unicorn big with the sweet touch and the ability to be the fulcrum of a humming offense. No, that’s the low-stakes Towns. This is the ghastly clone; hook-handed, mush-brained, and entirely harmful to everything his team does. Denver’s big wings are ideal matchups for him in many ways, but this isn’t a matchup thing. This is a mentality thing. This is a flower who can’t withstand the bright lights thing. This, now undeniably, is a thing.
The most concise way to sum up his complete manure-massacre of the bed sheets is this: Good things happened when he was nowhere near them.
His first half was the stuff of nightmares, his third quarter was a flirtatiously fleeting glimmer, and his clutch-time play was an unmitigated and entirely predictable disaster.
All of Edwards’ haymakers came when Towns was spacing far away from him. All of Conley’s goodness came when Towns was in the corner. The Timberwolves were able to contain Jokic (somewhat) when Gobert took over Towns’ role on the big man. Every time Chris Finch saw the light and stopped trying to run post-ups through KAT, the Wolves benefitted immediately and every time he went to the bench the offense found a pulse. They were able to get stops in most actions Towns wasn’t involved in and found themselves routinely dismantled whenever he was involved.
They no longer need to find a way to get him going. Instead, they need to find a way to stop him from hurting them. And, unless things take a drastic turn, they need to find a way to deal with him permanently in the coming months.
Finished with 10 points (38.8% TS), 12 rebounds and 2 assists in 34 minutes — -7.8 net rating.
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