Timberwolves coach Chris Finch showed his own toughness in Denver. And his players followed suit

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch attended the team’s practice the day after he had surgery to repair his ruptured patellar tendon. There the head man was, on the floor, crutching around at a time when most would’ve been planted on their couches.

And then, shortly after practice concluded, the pain truly kicked in.

“I think the initial pain medication that they gave him was starting to wear off from the surgery,” Wolves assistant coach Micah Nori told Chat Hartman on WCCO Radio that afternoon. “So I think he was in immense pain,”

Indeed, after the nerve blocker applied post surgery runs its course, things get real.

Surely, that pain — which kicked in just two days prior to Game 1 in Denver — would be enough to sideline the head coach.

Not quite. Finch had a post-op appointment that Friday morning, then almost immediately got a flight to Denver and rejoined the team at practice that afternoon.

It’s unimaginable.

“I tell you,” Nori said, “he’s a trooper and he’s a warrior.”

Finch sat in the second row, just off from the scorer’s table for the first two games in Denver — both victories.

“It was great. Most important thing for me was finding a way for me to be involved and active, and also be in a place where I felt safe; where I wasn’t going to catch anything that I couldn’t get out of the way of. That was all great,” Finch said. “I could see easily, I could engage with the players, engage with the coaches. Our coaches have done an incredible job. We have a great staff here. I trust them implicitly, so it’s pretty seamless, to be quite honest with you.

“My biggest concern was would it be disruptive or distracting to the players and they’ve been all on board and they flow easily with this stuff.”

Not ideal, but he made it work.

“Just gotta adjust. That’s what leadership is about,” Finch told Paul Allen on KFXN-100.3. “You’ve got to adjust whatever your circumstances are.”

Still, while Finch’s setup was safe, there’s no way it was comfortable. It’s not as though his leg — which is locked into a straight-leg cast for the foreseeable future — was elevated.

“Yeah, I’m in a pretty good amount of pain,” Finch told Allen on Monday. “Kind of constant pain all the time.”

Whenever he wasn’t at practice or a game, he was on a couch with his leg elevated and wrapped in ice.

“It’s just part of it. You’ve just got to deal with it,” Finch told Allen. “It’s not been too, too bad, and I know the guys appreciate having me around and I appreciate being around, so I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

While Nori was the one stalking the sidelines for each of Minnesota’s two victories in Denver — and played a large role in the team’s success — Finch’s presence mattered.

“He’s our leader, he’s a guy you can look over to and, even still, he hops over on the crutches at times when he’s yelling at guys behind the bench. That passion he has for the game, it’s rubbing off on other guys,” Conley said. “We’re doing a great job of keeping him involved, keeping him engaged and he’s doing a great job keeping on us and just being who he is.”

The full version of who he is.

Finch has largely kept off the narcotic painkillers in his recovery — unfathomable for many people who’ve endured that surgery. He refused to take any strong painkillers around game time, and has largely just been on Tylenol. The coach isn’t doing anything to jeopardize his clarity at the climax of the season.

“He wants this. He wants to be a part of this, and we want him to be a part of this,” Wolves forward Naz Reid said. “That’s huge for us to see that toughness he has to still be a part of this. That’s exciting.”

Toughness — it’s something Finch demands of his team on a daily basis. It’s that culture of competitiveness that’s helped breed the NBA’s top defense. Throughout the regular season, Finch implores his players to be available and play, knowing those habits would serve the team well come playoffs.

Now, he’s practicing what he preached.

“If he’s going to tell us to play through injuries and stuff like that, he better damn well be on that bench,” Conley joked. “So, he’s doing a great job.”

Heading into Friday’s Game 3 at Target Center, Finch is improving physically every day. He certainly still “has some moments” of intense pain every day, but they’re becoming fewer and farther between.

“That’s the good thing. It’s going in the right direction. The doctors are really happy. Can put a little bit more weight on it starting right now. Started therapy yesterday,” Finch said Thursday. “The pain comes and goes in different forms, but overall, it’s been manageable.”

Game 3 would’ve been a logical time for the coach to join his team on the sidelines. That he miraculously did so nearly a week earlier is something his players won’t soon forget.

“Someone like me who just came off (meniscus) surgery on my knee, and it was nowhere near as major as his, I can imagine the doctor told him not to travel and not fly, and Finchy said, ‘Hell no, I’m gonna be there for my team,’” Wolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns said. “So, (as) the leader of our team, when you have someone who is willing to fight like that, of course his troops are willing to fight just as hard.”

“That,” Anthony Edwards said, “is the perfect answer.”

Related Articles