Anthony Edwards left the floor with fewer than three minutes to play in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s game at Target Center and Minnesota trailing Oklahoma City — the team with the second-best record in the West — by four points.
For many teams, that would have been a death sentence. Edwards has played at an All-NBA level this season and is a major reason the Timberwolves (13-4) currently carry the top record in the Western Conference.
Minnesota went on to win the game.
It was a prime example of how multi-faceted this team is. Even without Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, Rudy Gobert can still anchor a dominant defense. Karl-Anthony Towns is still a major scoring threat. Mike Conley is still perhaps the game’s best pure point guard.
Then there are depth pieces like Troy Brown Jr., who can come off the bench to secure big rebounds, play tough defense and deliver a couple of critical buckets to help close the game out.
“Adversity comes, you’ve got to elevate. That’s what champions do, and that’s what we want to do every night,” Gobert said. “There’s always going to be adversity. However it is, whichever form it comes, we’ve got to be ready to step up, and tonight we’ve got guys who stepped like, like Troy, for example. I thought we did as a team, our mindset. Ant went down, and we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s get it.’ ”
Minnesota is much more than any one of two players this season. It’s why if Edwards, who has a bruised hip after crashing to the floor on a dunk attempt Tuesday, misses Thursday’s game against Utah, and maybe even a game or two after that, the Wolves will be fine.
Just look at last season, when Edwards went down with a sprained ankle in the first quarter of a game in Chicago. Those Wolves were also without Towns. Yet they would have beaten the Bulls had it not been for a head-scratching Taurean Prince turnover.
And, a few nights later, they blitzed the Knicks to the tune of 140 points in an impressive road victory in a game that featured perhaps their best ball movement of the season.
Conley was asked Tuesday how his role would change if Edwards had to miss time.
“I’m shooting a lot more,” he said with a laugh. “There’s 20-something shots out there that somebody has to take, so I’m getting a few more. (Tuesday) I was frustrated because I didn’t make any, because I was like, ‘I’ve been waiting a long time to get this.’ And they just weren’t falling tonight.
“But yeah, not necessarily shooting, but being more aggressive out there. I have the ball a lot, and they rely on me to make plays and get guys involved and just do what I have been doing, just probably (for) a little bit longer stretches.”
Conley played the final 15 minutes of the game against Oklahoma City. In total, the 36-year-old guard played a game-high 37 minutes. He joked afterward that he felt like he was 26 again.
He’s still that caliber of player. If Minnesota simply went out on a nightly basis and ran Conley-Gobert pick and rolls, it probably would win more games than it lost. The Wolves obviously have the personnel to allow themselves to do much more than that. Edwards and Towns represent Minnesota’s ceiling with their elite skill and shot-making.
Defensively, Edwards and McDaniels can fill up a highlight reel with one-on-one defensive stops.
But take away some of Minnesota’s star power and you’re just left with a bunch of really good players who are still capable of playing bigger roles when that is what’s necessary to win.
It required the injuries for the Wolves to truly see the ways in which Brown Jr. can impact winning.
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said the absences of McDaniels and Edwards may mean more three-center lineups with Towns, Gobert and Naz Reid. Frankly, Reid is deserving of even more opportunities, no matter which ways they may come.
“I’m always ready for anything,” Reid said.
The Wolves have so many ways in which they can attack and beat an opponent that the absence of a couple of key weapons only forces them to dig a little deeper into their arsenal.
Maybe Edwards’ absence clears the way for Towns to score 40 points. Perhaps the Conley-Gobert pick and roll runs wild like it’s 2021 in Utah all over again. Or maybe Minnesota reverts back to the ball movement bonanza that was that magical night in New York.
Regardless, the defense is sure to be present Thursday. As is the heady decision-making that comes from the Wolves’ vets. That’s a winning formula, regardless of the lineup.
“We always say we have a deep team for a reason. We have a lot of guys that have a history of taking a lot more shots and scoring, beating teams in the fourth quarters and just being part of big moments,” Conley said. “With or without guys, I think we can get a lot of wins and get the job done, no matter who we play.”