Timberwolves’ late-game offense continues to struggle, and it’s costing them games
The Wolves scored just 17 points in the final frame, hitting on only three of their final 16 shot attempts in their 109-104 loss to Golden State on Sunday.
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch was outlining to reporters all that went wrong in Minnesota’s loss Sunday to Golden State when he hit on a key point.
“Down the stretch in the fourth quarter, we couldn’t score,” Finch said.
What else is new?
An issue that has plagued Minnesota for the better part of the past two seasons again reared its head in another costly defeat. The Wolves scored just 17 points in the final frame, hitting on only three of their final 16 shot attempts in their 109-104 loss in Oakland, Calif. That included a three-plus minute stretch during the contest’s final five minutes in which the Wolves went 0 for 5 from the field with a turnover.
Such is life for a team with the third-worst clutch-time offense in the NBA this season — 99.2 points per 100 possessions with the game on the line. They’re only ahead of the Rockets and Spurs, the two worst teams by record in the NBA, in that category. Clutch time is defined by the time within the final five minutes of the game in which the score is separated by five points or fewer.
Within those parameters, Anthony Edwards is shooting just 40% from the field and 31% from deep while recording 10 turnovers versus nine assists. Jaden McDaniels is 4 for 19 from the field and 3 for 14 from deep. Naz Reid is 5 for 16 from the field and 1 for 10 from long range. Even Karl-Anthony Towns, in his limited action this season, is 4 for 15 from the field without a 3-point make in the clutch moments.
The few players who have had some modicum of late-game success for Minnesota are Kyle Anderson, Rudy Gobert and D’Angelo Russell, the latter sent to the Lakers at the trade deadline.
But even with Russell on the team a year ago, the clutch offense was not good. Minnesota ranked 19th in clutch-time offense a year ago during the regular season, and an anemic late-game offense was a big reason the Wolves were bounced from last year’s playoffs in the first round.
Edwards also struggled in winning-time situations a season ago, when he shot 32% from the floor and 25% from 3-point range in the regular season. Those numbers dipped in the postseason, when he went 2 for 11 in clutch time.
That’s all understandable. Experience can certainly show itself in high-value moments, and Edwards does provide the occasional reminder that he’s still only 21 years old. Similarly, McDaniels is only 22. On the opposite end, Anderson is 29, and his experience likely plays a big role in his late-game confidence and comfort.
But Timberwolves games will usually be decided far more by the play of Edwards than anyone else on the floor, particularly now that Russell is gone and Towns remains sidelined by a calf strain.
Edwards needs to be dominant when the outcome is being determined.
“I think just a little too much hero ball right now,” Finch said after Friday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets. “Just keep making the right play. When he was playing really well, I think he wants the ball. This is a big moment for him, it’s part of his growth curve. He’s had to share those moments, whether with KAT or DLo the last couple seasons, now they’re mostly his. But he’s just got to keep making the right play and not forcing things that aren’t there.”
That adjustment needs to come in short order because Minnesota is in the midst of a brutal finish to the regular season schedule. The Wolves are not good enough to consistently run the NBA’s best teams off the floor; most of their wins over their final 21 games will likely be secured over the final 5 minutes of contests.
“We have a few different guys who can score. We have guys who can create,” Wolves center Rudy Gobert said. “It’s just about, depending on the matchup, finding the right system and just play basketball.”
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