Anthony Edwards and Timberwolves were wrong. They do need more experience (2024)

DALLAS — That glorious dunk deserved a better ending.

The third-quarter display of aerodynamic style and awe-inspiring athleticism from young Anthony Edwards was the kind of play that would have been immortalized if it had been the spark that saved his team’s season.

Alas, such honors are earned and not given. And less than an hour later, after the Dallas Mavericks had put on yet another masterclass in crunchtime to take a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals with a 116-107 win, Edwards had been grounded again in the worst kind of ways.


As he stood at his locker, talking with veteran point guard Mike Conley and other teammates who would listen just before heading for the showers, there were messages of humble honesty being shared all over the room.

Edwards acknowledged the greatness that was winning on the other side: Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are proving to be the more potent and experienced shotmakers in this wildly entertaining matchup.

“These (guys) are different,” Edwards had said.

He told Conley that he wouldn’t let these setbacks get him down, showing a determination to lead through positivity no matter how daunting the hoops task might be.

“Time to make history, fellas,” Edwards shouted. “I still don’t feel like they can beat us, bro. We haven’t all been clicking at one time. One game. One game.”

Moments later, he issued a challenge that no team in NBA history has been able to meet.

“Well, we’re here now, fellas,” he said. “What are we gonna do?”



— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) May 27, 2024

Edwards’ optimism is admirable, but we all know where this is going. History says the Minnesota Timberwolves have missed their chance at winning the franchise’s first title and are destined to join the other 154 teams that have lost the series in which they trailed 3-0.

No team has ever recovered from that deficit, and all 27 teams that faced it in the conference finals found the same fate. So yes, it seems, the playoff experience this Timberwolves team lacked entering the West finals mattered after all.

When Edwards had spoken at the team’s shootaround on Sunday morning, he pushed back on the notion that these Timberwolves might need a few more tree rings on their trunk before they could fully grow into their potential.

“Yeah, I don’t think it’s experience,” he said. “I think we just dropped two — we gave them two games. At the end of the game, both games, we’re up like five with a minute left and we just give the game away. Turn it over. Missing layups. Just little things like that.”


This was the second time in this postseason he had taken such a stance, as he and 28-year-old co-star Karl-Anthony Towns went viral for defying the experience premise after their Game 7 win over Denver in the second round.

Here’s the thing, though: They didn’t give any of these games away. The Mavericks employ a player in Irving who has one title and three NBA Finals appearances to his name, and another in Dončić who is in his eighth playoff series (including the 2022 West finals) to Edwards’ fifth. Towns, who is struggling so mightily against Dallas, is in his sixth playoff series and had never won one before this postseason.

These things matter — a lot. Michael Jordan had 11 playoff series under his belt, throughout six postseasons, before the Chicago Bulls’ run in 1991 led to his first title.

LeBron James had taken part in 17 playoff series, including two NBA Finals losses, before the Miami Heat’s 2012 run that led to his first Larry O’Brien Trophy.

And while Minnesota’s seven-game win over the defending champion Nuggets in the second round might have fooled us all into thinking this age-old truth wasn’t the case, that series was unique because of the way Timberwolves president Tim Connelly had built his roster with Nikola Jokić and Denver in mind.

“They’re built to beat us,” Jokić had said after Minnesota’s Game 7 win.

Those frontcourt advantages are gone now, though. The question in these first three games against Dallas has been whether the Timberwolves’ elite perimeter defenders could slow the Dončić-Irving duo that has proven to be so much more dynamic than most assumed when they joined forces last season.

The answer is clear: They cannot. After Dončić (33 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Irving (33 points, four assists, three rebounds) showed out yet again in Game 3, these are their respective averages for the series:

• Dončić: 32.7 points (46.4 percent shooting overall; 40.6 percent from 3-point range on 10.7 attempts per game), 8.7 assists, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 steals per game.


• Irving: 27.7 points (52.5 percent; 43.8 percent on 5.3 attempts per), 4.7 assists, four rebounds.

Conversely, here are the numbers for Minnesota’s top tandem.

• Edwards: 22.0 points (38.6 percent; 33.3 percent on seven attempts per), eight assists, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals.

• Towns: 15.0 points (27.8 percent; 13.6 percent on 7.3 attempts per), 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, one steal.

The Timberwolves’ Naz Reid can hold his head high. He’s averaging 17.3 points (56.3 percent; 55 percent on 6.7 attempts per), 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and one steal per game.

As Minnesota big man Rudy Gobert discussed after Game 3, Dallas’ dominance should not come as a surprise. Going back to March 7 when the Mavericks downed Miami in a game that coach Jason Kidd has highlighted as the start of their impressive turnaround, this has been a team to be reckoned with this season.

“No, they’re not better than we thought they were,” Gobert told The Athletic. “You know, since the (February trade) deadline (in which they added Gafford and fellow big man P.J. Washington), they’ve been one of the best teams in the league, if not the best. And they’ve been really good down the stretch.”

The problem, as Gobert knows as well as anyone else after his disastrous ending against Dončić in Game 2, is that the Mavericks have found a way to make the big plays when they matter most.

“In Game 1, Game 2, we’re up 80 percent of the game, and they just outplayed us in the last six minutes of the games,” he continued. “We also helped them a lot with our inefficiency, I think, offensively, which gives them extra (chances) to do what they do offensively. You can play great defense, and sometimes they still hit some tough shots. So we have to find ways to execute down the stretch and give ourselves a chance.”

GO DEEPERWithout their defensive anchor, Mavericks find a new way to win — again

When it comes to historical comps for Edwards, Gobert prefers to remember the story of a 24-year-old Dwyane Wade leading Miami to a title in 2006. The Heat star was in his third season and second playoffs with older players such as Shaquille O’Neal (who was 33 at the time), Jason Williams (30) and Antoine Walker (29) to aid in the effort. Edwards is in his fourth season and third playoffs with vets Gobert (31), Conley (36) and Towns (28) at his side. The potential to win the whole thing right now is truly there Gobert insists.


“We’ve got Ant, who’s 22, and Dwyane Wade won a championship at that age,” Gobert told The Athletic. “(Wade) was the guy, but he was surrounded by some other veterans who helped him grow. I think that’s the way I feel about our team. Ant is not in his prime yet, but he’s still (capable of leading a title team).

“For him, it’s about learning every day, being willing to learn and grow and he’s done that. Sometimes the pain of losing is the best lesson, but I think we’ve had some of that. I think we’ve had enough of that. Now it’s ‘Let’s win it.’ ”

The problem is that they’re doing the opposite at the moment.

“Every (playoff series) loss is definitely a lesson,” Gobert continued. “But I also believe that we have what it takes to win now. That’s the way I’ve felt. Of course, I don’t think we are at our best yet, but I still think we have a group that’s capable of being unique, and we’ve shown it. We’ve been that. And I still think we are that team. We’ve just got to find ways to close the games against a really good team.”

Edwards remains convinced that this is a case of the Timberwolves going cold at the wrong time.

“We’ve been knocking the shots down the whole playoffs,” Edwards said. “The Denver series, the Phoenix series (in the first round), we (were) making all the shots. So it’s harder (for the opponent) to do what you do when we’re knocking ’em down. But when we’re not knocking ’em down, it’s easier to crowd the paint.

“I was getting to the rim today, and there were like four people in there. So they make it tough. They did a great job. Shoutout to them.”

It’s just not that simple, though. And as Timberwolves coach Chris Finch admitted, his team is on the brink of elimination for reasons that go much deeper than the bounce of the ball.

“Of course (Edwards) is learning,” Finch said. “He’s 22 years old, (in the) Western Conference finals. He’s got a lot on his shoulders, and we expect a lot out of him. But yeah, this is what it is. This is a learning experience for him, but we’re trying to win basketball games, too.


“Just in general, we have to look at the plays that we did and didn’t make down the stretch. There was some sloppy execution there, too. I thought there was a few sets coming out of the timeout. We’ve got to be better.”

And if this group stays together, they will be — over time.

(Photo of Anthony Edwards with Luka Dončić: Glenn James / Getty Images)

Anthony Edwards and Timberwolves were wrong. They do need more experience (2)Anthony Edwards and Timberwolves were wrong. They do need more experience (3)

Sam Amick is a senior NBA writer for The Athletic. He has covered the Association for the better part of two decades while at USA Today, Sports Illustrated, AOL FanHouse and the Sacramento Bee. Follow Sam on Twitter @sam_amick

Anthony Edwards and Timberwolves were wrong. They do need more experience (2024)
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