In their last three Playoff losses to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves led by double digits in the 4th quarter. All that means is that Memphis was the better team, for as long as I’ve been watching pro basketball, the only quarter that matters is the 4th. You can go further and say, all that matters is the last five minutes–or less. This is in contrast to baseball, where, once the Twins fell behind 5-0 in the first inning last night the game was basically over.

Still, there was much to be cheered about if you were a Minnesota fan. First, of course, was their entry in the Playoffs as the 7th seed, when no one predicted them to be a Playoff team this year. Just as encouraging was the performance of their two youngest players, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, both drafted in 2020. Edwards, amazingly only 20 years old, was the best player on the court in the first half, scoring 20 points on driving layups and long three-pointers. Although not so dominant, he performed credibly the rest of the game. McDaniels, only recently back from injury, scored a season-high 24 p0ints off the bench and was ferocious on defense, as well. Their futures are bright.

The third T’wolf who distinguished himself–and there were really only three–was backup point guard Jordan McLaughlin. D’Angelo Russell bricked his first three shots and did little to ignite the offense. When McLaughlin entered the game the difference was palpable. Everyone moved with more purpose and his deft passes set up his teammates in rhythm for easy baskets. Plus, he shot 4-for-5 himself. Timberwolf coach Chris Finch obviously noticed the difference, as he replaced Russell with McLaughlin in the 4th with the game on the line. What this means for the future is anyone’s guess: I know too little of NBA economics to understand the significance of Russell’s “max” contract, but he has been a disappointment, as he was elsewhere, and if the Wolves could get value in a trade I’ll bet they would take it.

The other “max” contract belongs to Karl-Anthony Towns, who apparently earned his over the course of his best year in the pros. (I hadn’t watched a Timberwolves game before last night, but followed them daily in the paper and on highlights shows.) Towns, however, had a spotty record in these playoffs, turning in a no-show for every good performance. Last night was another clunker. Memphis used a quick double-team to stymie his offense, and you wonder if this will be a recurring problem in years to come. Moreover, he was responsible for two of the three key plays that finally turned the game in the Grizzlies’ favor: a flagrant foul on a sloppy block attempt and a misbegotten three-point effort from far out, the kind of “hero play” that Coach Finch had warned about. (The third dagger was Minnesota-native Tyus Jones’s 24-second-buzzer beater with one minute to play that turned a 1-point lead into 4.)

No one else made a significant contribution, pro or con, and by this I refer to Malik Beasley, Patrick Beverly and Jarrod Vanderbilt. Bench players who contributed substantially over the course of the season–Taureen Prince, Jaylen Nowell, Naz Reid–never left the bench, and it remains to be seen how or whether any of them–not to mention Jake Layman, Josh Okogie, Bolsenaro–will figure in the team’s future plans. One hopes that Prince and Nowell, in particular, will develop and create a solid core that can capitalize on the Playoff experience that Edwards, McDaniels and McLaughlin now have. Oh, and one hopes the T’wolves can add a rebounder: Memphis outrebounded Minnesota 56-37, including 17-6 on the offensive boards. That, better three-point shooting, and experience made the difference.

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