Timberwolves Reach Conference Finals Brimming With Talent And Tenacity

May 20, 2024, 3:38 PM

Rudy Gobert & Mike Conley (1)

DENVER (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves reached the Western Conference finals brimming with talent, trust and tenacity after staging the biggest Game 7 comeback since the NBA began tracking play-by-play data 28 years ago.

The Wolves trailed the Denver Nuggets by 15 points at halftime Sunday night and by 20 points just over a minute into the third quarter.

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With the crowd rocking Ball Arena, the Timberwolves didn’t flinch. They doubled down on their dogged defense and roared back for the most monumental victory in the franchise’s 35-year history.

They did it behind a terrific transition game and an unwavering superstar in Anthony Edwards for a stunning 98-90 victory over the reigning NBA champions.

The Wolves will face the Dallas Mavericks beginning Wednesday night at Target Center.

“The fans have been waiting for this moment, and this team has brought them this moment,” said Karl-Anthony Towns, adding that it certainly wasn’t lost on him that Sunday marked Minnesota all-time great Kevin Garnett’s 48th birthday.

“Shoutout to KG, happy birthday, KG,” Towns said. “Here’s your present from all of us.”

Garnett led Minnesota to its first conference finals 20 years ago. The Wolves lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in 2004 and Garnett never made it back to the postseason before leaving for Boston, where he won an NBA title in 2008.

The Wolves would miss the playoffs 16 times in the next 17 years, making it only in 2018, when they lost in the first round to Houston.

Things began to turn around for the Timberwolves when they drafted Edwards No. 1 overall in 2020. They made it back to the postseason party the following year, losing to Memphis in Round 1.

After hiring head coach Chris Finch off Michael Malone’s staff in Denver, the Timberwolves hired away the Nuggets’ roster architect Tim Connelly, who built the Wolves explicitly to unseat his former team in Denver.

Connelly’s first major move was a bold get of Rudy Gobert that was as risky as it was unconventional — he sent five players and five picks to Utah for the star defender — but going big was no small part of this breakthrough season for the Timberwolves.

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“I think when Tim Connelly made that trade, everybody was laughing at him like, ‘What is he doing?’ But he made a great team,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic said as this series began.

Jokic and the defending NBA champions knew that well before losing their semifinal series in such humbling fashion to a team, like theirs, that was assembled largely at Connelly’s direction.
As Jokic noted Sunday night, Connelly’s deep, versatile roster can adapt to any style, meet any challenge and, as Sunday night showed, overcome the longest of odds.

The Timberwolves’ resolve was hardened a year ago when they lurched into the playoffs with a short-handed team that was quickly dispatched by Denver in five games in Round 1.

Fueled by that disappointment, the Wolves won 56 games this year, produced the league’s top defense and led the Western Conference for most of the season before finishing a game behind Oklahoma City and Denver for the No. 3 seed.

The Wolves made sure seeding didn’t matter.

After their four-game dispatch of the Phoenix Suns that marked their first playoff sweep in franchise history, the Wolves were unfazed by the Nuggets’ 20-5 record in the playoffs over the last two years or by their Western Conference-best 36-8 record at home this season.

The Wolves won three times in four games at Ball Arena. They took Games 1 and 2 in Denver before losing three in a row. Facing elimination, they recovered with a 115-70 demolition of the Nuggets in Game 6, the biggest win over a defending champion in NBA history.

And they followed up that win with an epic Game 7 comeback.

“The series was wild and this game was just a microcosm of the entire series,” Finch said.

Towns and Jaden McDaniels each scored 23 points in the clincher. Edwards finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists with most of his contributions coming in Minnesota’s surgical 60-37 second half that knocked out the Nuggets, who got 35 points from Jamal Murray and 34 from Jokic.

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Up next are the fifth-seeded Mavericks, who reached their second conference championship in three years. They lost to eventual champion Golden State in five games in 2022, but that was before Luka Doncic had Kyrie Irving as his sidekick.

The Wolves won three of four against Dallas in the regular season, with the Mavs winning the only game in which Doncic and Irving both played. Dallas was without both its stars for both losses in Minnesota.

“Honestly, I think for us we’re just so happy for this moment, that we can’t even think about the next moment,” Towns said.

“I’m thinking about it,” Edwards playfully interrupted.

“I will say for us, if we continue to play Timberwolves basketball, it will fix a lot of problems that we may have with that team and what they do best,” Towns suggested. “So as long as we play Timberwolves’ brand of basketball, I like our chances.”

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Timberwolves Reach Conference Finals Brimming With Talent And Tenacity