DENVER — It was fitting that Minnesota’s season ended with a surprisingly strong effort that fell short.
There were highs in Game 5 in Denver — and plenty of signs of promise — but it ended in defeat. The shorthanded Timberwolves fell 112-109 on Tuesday to fall 4-1 to the top-seeded West in the first round and end their season.
Anthony Edwards had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but flew off the back iron to officially draw the curtains on the campaign.
Edwards was once again the catalyst for Minnesota for much of the night. The 21-year-old guard has solidified his dominance in the postseason, carrying the offensive load time and time again. He scored 16 points in the first half alone. He finished the game with 29 but needed 32 to send the game to an extra session.
Denver paid tribute to the rising superstar in the second half, doubling him nearly every time he touched the basketball.
Karl-Anthony Towns came alive in the second half. After scoring just five points while struggling from the floor in the first half, Towns took advantage of the extra defensive attention given to Edwards by attacking the paint relentlessly, finishing and drawing a number of foul calls.
The big man finished with 26 points — 21 of which came in the second half — and 11 rebounds.
Even on the other end, Towns held his own against MVP Nikola Jokic, twice.
Overall, Minnesota defended Denver well. The problem came on the defensive glass. Denver collected one offensive rebound after another in the second half, including several key ones along the way that seemingly always led to buckets.
The Nuggets posted 14 second-chance points in the second half alone. Rudy Gobert, brought in in part to heal the Timberwolves’ rebounding struggles from a postseason ago, has failed to do so with the season on the line.
The Timberwolves came out of the gates on Tuesday, taking it to a seemingly tight Denver team in the first quarter. Minnesota jumped out to a 27-12 lead before Denver closed the quarter with a 10-2 run to close the gap.
It was a sloppy second quarter with both teams committing turnovers and missed shots. Minnesota trailed by one at halftime.
Jokic finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists, while Jamal Murray had 35 points.
The reality, though, is that Minnesota was the No. 8 seed that fell in five games in the first round — a regression from a year ago. It’s a tough pill to swallow after making such a big change in the offseason.
The Wolves can point to injuries — from Towns’ extended absence to the playoff unavailability of Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels. Even Kyle Anderson missed Game 5 with an eye injury, leaving the Timberwolves without three of their top seven players. There are excuses to be made, not just for the shortcomings of the postseason, but for the ups and downs that defined the entire season.
Minnesota now needs to throw them out of the bucket, analyze them and determine if this is reason enough to “come back” next season or if more changes need to be made.
Because this much is clear – the team has a superstar capable of leading deep postseason runs in Edwards. The mission must now be to surround him with the right pieces to allow it to happen.
It’s going to be another interesting offseason for Minnesota.