As Anthony Edwards lay on the ground, writhing in pain, he let out a bloodcurdling scream.
“FREE TIME!” he said after severely spraining his right ankle in the first quarter at Chicago. And with that, a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has clung to the edge of the cliff by its collective fingernails all season has lost even more of its tenuous hold in the hunt for the Western Conference playoffs.
They came to Chicago looking for a win that could have tied them 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 when he lifted the ball, dribbled to his right and leapt into the air to make a perfect cross pass to Mike Conley for a 3 that gave them a 25 -20 lead eight minutes into the first quarter.
That’s when Minnesota’s iron man, the player who’s so proud to dress up every night in defiance of the load management era, the one who’s been so essential to keeping them afloat while Towns was away, fell on the pitch. in all kinds of pain. He slammed into the ground and grabbed his ankle, Wolves’ nightmare scenario unfolding before their eyes.
The Timberwolves and their fans have seen Edwards on the floor before. They saw him take falls that seemed destined to keep him out for long stretches, like he did in Milwaukee on Dec. 31, only to see him get back up and get back into the fight. And when the Timberwolves initially deemed him “doubtful” to return, there was brief hope the injury wasn’t as bad as it looked.
On Friday, Towns picked him up and put Edwards’ arm around his shoulder to help him to the locker room, an appropriate image for a season that never went to plan. Just 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 boot. Wolves fell to 35-36 and sit eighth in the West.
“He hasn’t missed a game all year, so you know he’s not making anything up,” Rudy Gobert told reporters in Chicago. “He is really hurt. I don’t know how bad it is, but hopefully we can get it back very soon.
Now the mountain gets really steep. Wolves manager Chris Finch deservedly saw a win there, so he went all-in. Kyle Anderson played 51 minutes, Conley played 46 and Jaden McDaniels was at 45 with a game in Toronto on 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) is completely gone. I knew it was real and I knew it was going to be bad. My reaction was obviously that I was worried about Ant. But we have to try to refocus and leave.
The Timberwolves have the 22nd offense this year (113.0 points per 100 possessions) and Edwards’ scoring and play will be sorely missed. With him on the ground, Wolves have an offensive rating of 115.2, according to Cleaning the Glass. which would be a top-10 offense for the entire season. When Edwards sits, Wolves have odds of 109.6, which would be last in the league.
“We still have other players who can put the ball in the bucket,” Finch said. “We will be less of an iso team. You lose Ant’s dynamic shot. Of course, you lose everything he brings. … We will have to rely more on ball movement, more on body movement, pass-and-pass combinations, that sort of thing.
As for the Bulls game, Finch was right. Conley went 8 for 12 of 3 and scored 28 points, Gobert had 21 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks in a monster performance before fouling out in overtime and Jaden McDaniels scored a career-high 25 points to go with six rebounds and four assists, showing an ability to create his own shot that Wolves will need during Edwards’ absence.
Although they lost Edwards early and still haven’t got Towns back, Wolves really put up a fight. 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.
Wolves looked set to win the game in the first extra time when they were leading 123-121 and had the ball with less than two seconds separating the game and shot clocks. All Taurean Prince, one of the team’s most reliable veterans, had to do was dribble the ball across the floor and wait to be fouled to try and put some more cushion on the lead and freeze the game. But he inexplicably threw a pass to no one near the Bulls bench with 16 seconds on the shot clock. Patrick Beverley jumped on it, then fed Zach LaVine for the tying bucket to send him into second overtime.
“It’s a devastating loss. We have to win this game,” Finch said. “Top two, 26 seconds to play with the ball. There’s no reason to do anything other than just have them come get us and we just throw it out of bounds.
As much as they missed Edwards’ attack down the stretch, they also missed his defense. He became a ball-locked defender on the perimeter, which was much needed as LaVine and DeMar DeRozan set Wolves on fire in the second half.
With games against the Raptors on Saturday and against the New York Knicks on Monday, every time Edwards misses will be daunting. Suddenly, Wolves go from hoping to crack the top six and avoiding the Play-In tournament to being in danger of staying in the Play-In field. They are half a game ahead of ninth-place Oklahoma City (34-36) and one game over the 10th-place Lakers (34-37).
The Lakers and Warriors also lost Friday night, so Wolves are far from buried in the running. But without Edwards And Cities, it will take an incredible amount of determination. McDaniels and Conley will need to shoulder more of the scoring load, Gobert will need to avoid fouls and Alexander-Walker and Reid need to be consistent scorers off the bench for Wolves to have a chance to compete.
Gobert has been increasingly assertive since the trade deadline, increasing his output since reuniting with Conley.
McDaniels looks set to take on more attacking responsibility with his no-dribble game. And Jordan McLaughlin is starting to show signs of his old self. Finch may also have to dive deep into the bench for guys like Josh Minott and Luka Garza, especially on such a short turnover against Toronto.
As dire as the situation was, Finch wasn’t feeling sorry for himself on Friday night.
“Nobody cares. We have to keep fighting,” Finch said. “We have a hell of a game tomorrow. Nobody cares what happens to the Timberwolves. We will fight. I know that.”
Edwards watched from the bench in a red hoodie with white lettering across the chest.
I’M THE BEST
I’M THE BEST
I AM THE BEST GUY
He’s been playing like this for over three months now. He’s been there every day for Wolves this season. How long will they be missing? It remains unclear. But the fight to save their season begins now.
(Photo by Anthony Edwards: Quinn Harris/Getty Images)