As Anthony Edwards lay on the court writhing in pain, he let out a blood-curdling scream.
“TIME-OUT!” he said after severely rolling his right ankle in the first quarter at Chicago. And with that, a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has been clinging to the edge of the cliff with their collective claws all season lost even more of their tenuous grip on the Western Conference playoff race.
They came to Chicago looking for a win that could have vaulted them into the sixth seed in the West, with Karl-Anthony Towns taking tangible steps toward returning from a calf injury. Edwards hit the first two 3-pointers and cooked early against the Bulls when he brought the ball up, dribbled to his right and leapt into the air to make a perfect cross-court pass to Mike Conley for a three that put them up 25. -20 lead eight minutes into the first quarter.
That’s when Minnesota’s ironman, a player so proud of dressing up every night in defiance of the load management era that has been such an important part of keeping them afloat in Towns’ absence, fell to the field. in all kinds of pains. He hit the floor and grabbed his ankle, Wolves’ nightmare scenario unfolding before their eyes.
The Timberwolves and their fans have seen Edwards on the floor before. They’ve seen him take a fall that seemed to keep him out for long periods of time, like he did in Milwaukee on December 31st, only to see him get up and get back into the fight. And when the Timberwolves initially listed him as “questionable” to return, there was brief hope that the injury wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
On Friday, Towns picked him up and put Edwards’ arm around his shoulder to help him into the locker room, a fitting image for a season that has never gone according to plan. Right after halftime, Edwards was ruled out, and he watched the rest of the 139-131 double overtime loss to the Bulls from the bench in a walking shoe. 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 going to play,” Rudy Gobert told reporters in Chicago. “He’s really hurt. I don’t know how bad it is, but I hope we get him back really soon.
Now the mountain is really steep. Wolves manager Chris Finch rightly saw a win, so he went in. Kyle Anderson played 51 minutes, Conley played 46 and Jaden McDaniels had 45 in Toronto Saturday night. It’s not immediately clear how long Edwards will be out, but it’s fair to say he’ll miss at least some time, and time is something the Timberwolves don’t have right now.
“They’re always very painful,” Finch told reporters in Chicago after the game. “(His ankle) went completely over the top. I knew it was real and I knew it was going to be bad. My reaction was obviously I was worried about Ant. But we’ve got to try to refocus and go.
The Timberwolves have the 22nd-ranked offense this year (113.0 points per 100 possessions) and will sorely miss Edwards’ scoring and playmaking. When he’s on the floor, the Wolves have a 115.2 offensive rating per clean up on the glass. which would be a top 10 offense all season. With Edwards sitting, the Wolves have a 109.6 rating, which would be dead last in the league.
“We still have other players who can put the ball in the bucket,” Finch said. “We’re going to be less of a big team. You’re going to lose Antti’s dynamic big hitting. Of course, you’re going to lose everything that he brings. … We’re going to have to rely more on ball movement, more body movement, pass-pass combinations, things like that.”
As for the Bulls matchup, Finch was right. Conley went 8-12 from 3 for 28 points, Gobert had 21 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks in a monster performance before fouling out in overtime, and Jaden McDaniels had a career-high 25 points while grabbing six rebounds and four. assists, showing his ability to create his own shot, which the Wolves need in Edwards’ absence.
Despite losing Edwards early and still not getting Towns back, the Wolves really put up a fight. Naz Reid had 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 appeared to be on their way to winning the game in the first overtime when they led 123-121 and got the ball with less than two seconds to play and shot the clock. All Taurean Prince, one of the team’s most reliable veterans, had to do was drop the ball on the floor and wait to get fouled to try and put more padding on the lead and put the game away. But he inexplicably threw a pass to no one near the Bulls bench with 16 seconds on the shot clock. Patrick Beverley pounced on it and fed Zach LaVine for the game-tying bucket to send it to the second overtime.
“It’s a devastating loss. We’ve got to win that game,” Finch said. “Two ups, 26 seconds left. There’s no reason to do anything but make them pick us up and we just throw it out of bounds.”
As much as they missed Edwards’ offense, they also missed his defense. He’s stepped up to become an on-ball defender on the perimeter, which was sorely needed when LaVine and DeMar DeRozan torched the Wolves in the second half.
Against the Raptors on Saturday and at the New York Knicks on Monday, all the time Edwards will miss is scary. Suddenly Wolves have hope of jumping into the top six and avoiding the Play-In tournament at the risk of staying in the Play-In field. They are a half-game ahead of ninth-ranked Oklahoma City (34-36) and a game ahead of the 10th-ranked Lakers (34-37).
The Lakers and Warriors both lost on Friday night as well, so the Wolves aren’t far from buried in the race. But without Edwards and Cities, it takes an incredible amount of determination. McDaniels and Conley need to take on more of the scoring burden, Gobert needs to stay out of fouls, and Alexander-Walker and Reid need to be consistent scorers off the bench for the Wolves to have a chance to compete.
Gobert has been increasingly confident since the trade deadline and has increased his production since reuniting with Conley.
McDaniels seems ready to take on more offensive responsibility with his intimidating game. And Jordan McLaughlin is starting to show signs of his old self. Finch may have to go deep on the bench for guys like Josh Minotti and Luka Garza as well, especially in such a short turnaround against Toronto.
As dire as the situation may seem, Finch didn’t feel sorry for himself Friday night.
“No one cares. We’ve got to keep fighting,” Finch said. “We’ve got a great game tomorrow. Nobody cares what happens to the Timberwolves. We’ll figure it out and get them fixed tomorrow. We fight. I know it.”
Edwards watched from the bench in a red hoodie with white letters across the chest.
I’M THE BEST
I’M THE BEST
I AM THE BEST SHOP
He’s been playing like that for over three months now. He has been involved every single day at Wolves this season. How long will they miss him? It remains unclear. But the battle to save the season begins right now.
(Photo of Anthony Edwards by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)