As Anthony Edwards lay writhing on the court in pain, he let out a bloodcurdling scream.
“TIME-OUT!” he said after twisting his right ankle badly in the first quarter in Chicago. And with that, a Minnesota Timberwolves team that clung to the cliff’s edge with its collective fingernails all season lost even more of its weak grip in the Western Conference playoff race.
They came to Chicago looking for a win that could have put them tied for sixth in the West and with Karl-Anthony Towns taking tangible steps toward a return from his calf injury. Edwards hit his first two 3-pointers and was cooking early against the Bulls as he brought the ball up, dribbled right and jumped into the air to make a perfect cross-court pass to Mike Conley for a 3 that gave them yielded a 25. -20 lead eight minutes into the first quarter.
That’s when Minnesota’s Iron Man, the player so proud of fitting in every night in defiance of the load management era, the one who was so instrumental in keeping them afloat while Towns was gone, fell to court in all kinds of pain. He thumped to the ground and clutched at his ankle as the Wolves’ nightmare scenario unfolded right before their eyes.
The Timberwolves and their fans have seen Edwards on the floor before. They’ve seen him take falls that seemed destined to keep him out for a long time, as he did in Milwaukee on December 31, only to see him pull up and get back into the fray. And when the Timberwolves initially deemed him “doubtful” about returning, there was brief hope that the injury wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
On Friday, Towns picked him up and put Edwards’s arm around his shoulder to help him into the dressing room, a fitting image for a season that never went according to plan. Just after halftime, Edwards was ruled out and he watched the rest of the 139-131 loss in double overtime to the Bulls from the bench in a walking boot. The Wolves fell to 35-36 and are eighth in the West.
“He hasn’t missed a game all year, so you know he’s not making it up,” Rudy Gobert told reporters in Chicago. ‘He’s really hurt. I don’t know how bad it is, but I hope we can get him back soon.”
Now the mountain gets really steep. Wolves coach Chris Finch rightly saw a win ahead, so he moved all-in. Kyle Anderson played 51 minutes, Conley played 46 and Jaden McDaniels was on 45 with a game in Toronto set for Saturday night. It’s not immediately clear how long Edwards will be out, but it’s fair to say he’ll be missing at least some time, and time is something the Timberwolves don’t have right now.
“Those are always super painful,” Finch told reporters in Chicago after the game. “(His ankle) went all over. I knew it was real and I knew it was going to be bad. My response was clear that I was concerned about Ant. But we have to try to refocus and go.”
The Timberwolves are ranked 22nd this year (113.0 points per 100 possessions) and will sorely miss Edwards’ scoring and playmaking. With him on the ground, the Wolves have an attack rating of 115.2 according to Cleaning the Glass. which would be a top-10 offense for the entire season. With Edwards sitting, the Wolves are rated at 109.6, which would be last place in the league.
“We still have other players who can throw the ball in the bucket,” Finch said. “We will be less of an ISO team. You lose Ant’s dynamic big-shot making. Of course you lose everything he brings. … We will have to rely more on ball movements, more on body movements, pass-pass combinations, things like that.”
When it came to the Bulls game, Finch was right. Conley went 8-for-12 out of 3 and scored 28 points, Gobert had 21 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks in a monster performance before going out in overtime and Jaden McDaniels scored a career-high 25 points to go with six rebounds and four assists, showing he can make his own shot that the Wolves need while Edwards is out.
Despite the early loss of Edwards and the fact that Towns is still not back, the Wolves really battled. Naz Reid scored 14 points, Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 12, and Kyle Anderson had his second triple-double in three games with 11 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
The Wolves looked on track to win the game in the first overtime as they led 123-121 and had the ball with less than two seconds between the game and the shot clock. All Taurean Prince, one of the team’s most reliable veterans, had to do was dribble the ball across the floor and wait for an offense to try and put some more buffer on the lead and freeze the game. But he inexplicably threw a pass to no one near the Bulls bench with 16 seconds left on the shot clock. Patrick Beverley pounced on it and fed Zach LaVine for the game tie to send him into second overtime.
“It’s a devastating loss. We have to win that game,” Finch said. “To two, 26 seconds left with the ball. off the track.
As much as they missed Edwards’ offense, they also missed his defense. He has emerged as a locked defender on the ball at the perimeter, something much needed as LaVine and DeMar DeRozan set the Wolves on fire in the second half.
With games against the Raptors on Saturday and the New York Knicks on Monday, any time Edwards misses will be disheartening. Suddenly, the Wolves are going to love hoping to jump into the top six and avoid the Play-In tournament, risking staying in the Play-In field. They are half a game ahead of ninth-place Oklahoma City (34-36) and a game ahead of the 10th-place Lakers (34-37).
The Lakers and Warriors both lost Friday night as well, so the Wolves are far from buried in the race. But without Edwards And Cities, it takes an incredible amount of determination. McDaniels and Conley will need to take on more of the scoring burden, Gobert will need to stay out of trouble and Alexander-Walker and Reid will need to be consistent goalscorers off the bench to give the Wolves a chance to compete.
Gobert has become increasingly assertive since the trade deadline and has boosted his production since reuniting with Conley.
McDaniels looks poised to take on more offensive responsibility with his off-the-dribbling game. And Jordan McLaughlin is starting to show signs of his old self. Finch may also need to go deep into the bench for guys like Josh Minott and Luka Garza, especially after such a short turnaround against Toronto.
As dire as the situation is, Finch was not feeling sorry for himself on Friday night.
“No one cares. We have to keep fighting,” Finch said. “We have a great game tomorrow. Nobody cares what happens to the Timberwolves. We’ll figure it out and we’ll thread them tomorrow. We will fight. I know that.”
Edwards watched from the couch in a red hoodie with white lettering across the chest.
I’M THE BEST
I’M THE BEST
I AM THE BEST GUY OUT THERE
He’s been playing like this for over three months now. He was there every day for the Wolves this season. How long will they miss him? That remains unclear. But the fight to save their season begins now.
(Photo by Anthony Edwards: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)