Wolves defeat Thunder in battle for first in West, executing in the clutch

With about two minutes remaining in the Timberwolves' 107-101 victory over Oklahoma City, Anthony Edwards had the ball near midcourt and the Wolves ahead by two.

In previous situations this month, Edwards might have dribbled the ball around until the shot clock wound down and taken a contested shot. Not so on Monday.

Instead, the guard spotted an opening to the basket, one that never closed entirely, and he rose to the rim. Teammate Jaden McDaniels flexed his muscles in the left corner just after takeoff as he anticipated what came next.

Edwards threw down an authoritative dunk, one that announced this night was going to be different than a lot of the tough ones the Wolves had of late.

Even with Mike Conley missing his fourth game in his last five because of hamstring tightness, the Wolves executed late on offense – they had a 9-0 run in the final three minutes that won the game – and 48 hours after closing the book on a week that featured their two worst losses of the season, they came away with one of their most impressive of the season.

"Anthony did a really good job of picking his spots, trusting his teammates, playing clean and quick, getting down hill putting the pressure on them," coach Chris Finch told reporters in Oklahoma City. "We really did a good job of finishing this game, which we hadn't been doing. Hopefully it's a good step and we can build on that part of it."

With the win, the Wolves (33-14) split their season series with the Thunder (32-15) and took a half-game lead over Denver and a one-game lead over Oklahoma City atop the Western Conference standings.

Edwards finished with 27 points — becoming the third-fastest player to reach 6,000 career points behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant — while center Karl-Anthony Towns had 21. Oklahoma City point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 37, 15 coming from the free-throw line. The calls Gilgeous-Alexander got seemed to perturb Edwards, especially after Gilgeous-Alexander grabbed Edwards' arm on that late dunk without a foul called.

"I'mma take the fine because the refs did not give us no calls tonight," Edwards told Bally Sports North after the game. "We had to play through every bump, every grab. I don't know. I don't know how we won tonight."

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BOXSCORE: Wolves 107, Oklahoma City 101

Well, it wasn't that big of a mystery. The Wolves played solid defense most of the night, and they got key contributions from the supporting cast. Guard Jordan McLaughlin had 10 key points, eight of which came in the second half. Nickeil Alexander-Walker again filled in capably for Conley at point guard and got the offense moving in those final minutes while guarding his cousin Gilgeous-Alexander most of the night.

But the Wolves don't beat Oklahoma City without the nights of center Rudy Gobert and forward Jaden McDaniels. Gobert had 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting to go with 17 rebounds, and Finch said he was key to the Wolves' late-game defensive efforts, when they shut down Oklahoma City in the final possessions.

"Rudy has this incredible sense just like a scorer likes to take over a game, he has an incredible sense of being able to up his presence in the paint," Finch said. "… It's pretty special to watch when you really think about it. He's kind of switched in, communicating, getting himself out of the matchups we don't want early and he's been doing that for us all year. That's a big part of why we've been able to close games is his defense down the stretch has been elite."

Then McDaniels took a different matchup for himself at times — guarding former Minnehaha Academy star Chet Holmgren. Holmgren had only four points on 2-for-9 shooting. McDaniels also contributed offensively with a key three-pointer and a big putback during the late run.

"Jaden was awesome," Finch said. "… [Holmgren] is a phenomenal player and we've had trouble with him the last few games we've played. Jaden has the length to bother him. He's got the quickness to get it under his dribble a little bit and he did an excellent job."

The Wolves now return for three games at home rejuvenated after some corners of the fan base had thought their season was about to go down the drain.

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.