Anthony Edwards scored a game-high 33 points, while Rudy Gobert added 15 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks to sail past Leonard, George, Harden and the Clippers.
Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard caught Minnesota Timberwolves stopper Jaden McDaniels in the air as the clocked ticked down to seven minutes remaining in the first quarter. Leonard proceeded to glide towards Rudy Gobert with malicious intentions.
He rose up, threw his hand with the ball towards the cylinder. Just as fast as the ball traveled to its destination at that moment, it found its way leaking out of the painted area by way of Rudy Gobert’s infamous deterrence of such an attempted scoring practice.
It found the hands of Anthony Edwards in transition, and soon the bottom of the twine by way of a Mike Conley corner 3-pointer.
It was a fitting lead in to an early first quarter run that saw Conley and company knock down eight of their first 12 field goals, and an ice-cold Clipper squad go just 2-12, resulting in an early 21-8 Timberwolves lead in front of a packed out Target Center.
If nothing else, the early burst was picture-perfect foreshadowing. The early 13-point lead for the Wolves was their largest until the fourth quarter. It highlighted the shooting struggles that would make its way back around for a Clipper team that couldn’t seem to get their shots to fall, and an Anthony Edwards-led triumph over a star-studded cast that’s found its form.
Though the Wolves kept the game in hand for much of the time, and led by 16 with 5:52 to go, there seemed to be a concerted effort forgo much of that lead towards the end, and had fans holding their breath. 16 quickly turned into 10, and through missed free throws, missed shots, and the same lackadaisical turnovers that have plagued them in games past, the lead came down to four points in the final minute.
Much of the missed free throw total can be attributed to Rudy Gobert. But just as he kept the door open from the charity stripe, him and Anthony Edwards closed it at the end, hitting six consecutive free throws to keep LA at arms length in a two-possession game, and ultimately finished it out.
The result? One of the best Timberwolves wins of the season.
Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden were held to a combined 18-52 shooting (34%). It can’t be attributed to one thing or one person in particular. I think tonight was a demonstration of just how versatile the identity of the double-big featured rotation can be. In a season last year that showed its warts against teams that play markedly different, Sunday night was yet another example of how this team has transformed in less than a year.
Granted, without Ivica Zubac, the Clippers came into Sunday in the top half of the league in points in the paint. A big source of that, outside of Zubac, is the offense that’s generated by their aforementioned wings. George, Leonard, and Russell Westbrook make up three of the top four on the team in points in the paint per game. The willingness to guard it is what ultimately paid dividends.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of guys who like to sit down and guard…they take the challenge,” Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch said afterward. “When you have Rudy behind you playing the way he’s been playing, it gives you even more confidence. All these guys compete so hard on the ball.”
On the other end, it would be utter failure to not mention the tough assignment that Los Angeles had to draw, namely the person who would end up being Minnesota’s leading scorer when it was all said and done.
Edwards came into Sunday night’s game questionable nursing a left knee contusion. He walked with a slight limp onto the floor for warmups. He wore a knee sleeve during the game for additional support.
It didn’t seem to bother him much.
Between his defensive performance in switching his assignments, or his aggression offensively, he played a near-flawless game. Finch read off his statline in his postgame presser in approval of the field goal, free throw, and assist ratios.
Edwards finished the game with 33 points on 62.5% shooting. His tandem with Jaden McDaniels (14 points, 60% shooting) amounted to a thorough outperformance of LA’s counter.
A Silent, But Deadly Rudy Gobert Performance
Rudy Gobert’s first field goal of the game came at 11:23 of the third quarter. He had just one point leading up to it.
Yet his 15 points was the part of this game that doesn’t deserve the spotlight, even though his four straight free throws at the end were the bridge to the final seal being stamped on the game.
Gobert was all over the paint and played one of his best defensive games of the year. He had four blocks to quantify it, but had multiple jaw-dropping blocks in the midrange that continued to assert his position as the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. One of said blocks included a late-game stuff in the fourth quarter.
“When I say we got guys that can guard, I put myself in that group too,” Gobert said after the game. “I love that they trust me, I trust my teammates…I’ll guard anyone one on one.”
And the free throws?
“All credit to [Rudy] for stepping up,” Finch said. “He made them when they mattered most.”
The Wolves will head into the Motor City to take on the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday at 6:00 PM CT. While it was pretty much impossible for Detroit to play worse than they had been during their 28 straight losses from October 28 through December 28, they’ve been playing teams a little bit tougher recently, with a recent two-point loss at home to the Houston Rockets.
Six of the Timberwolves’ next seven opponents are against sub-.500 teams, save a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center on Saturday.