Timberwolves need another win Thursday night to keep playoff run alive

Timberwolves Media Availability 5-30

Rudy Gobert and Naz Reid spoke with the KSTP sports department Thursday morning after the team shootaround at Mayo Clinic Square in Minneapolis.

Game 5 Wolves-Mavericks is set for Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. at Target Center. Dallas leads the series, 3-1.

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Below is a Game-5 preview courtesy of the Associated Press:

For all the problems the Minnesota Timberwolves were presented by the Dallas Mavericks over three straight losses to start the Western Conference finals, the one dogging them the most was the part of their game that led them this far in the first place.

The best defensive team in the NBA during the regular season — the Timberwolves held opponents under 100 points six times in 11 games over the first two rounds of the playoffs — had simply been shredded.

Playing with an edge carved by the determination to dodge a sweep and a boost created by a strategic switch, the Wolves forced both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving into their lowest scoring totals and worst shooting percentages of the series and won Game 4 to extend the series.

“We’re in the NBA, man. No team is just going to lay down and give me and Luka open shots,” Irving said. “I think when I look at just the quality of our shots, I think a few of them could be better. A few of them were rushed. A few of them were in and out. Especially when the game is in the balance, I’m thinking about all the plays where it could’ve gone either way.”

The Wolves moved NBA All-Defensive Second Team pick Jaden McDaniels to guard Irving, giving him a 7-inch (17.7-centimeter) height advantage, and gave Anthony Edwards the primary assignment of defending Doncic in a surprise matchup for the two superstars.

“Unbelievably great players have had their fingerprints all over this series, making so many great plays and tough shots. At some point, maybe they’re going to have a little bit of an off night,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said. “I mean, we were down 3-0. Just shuffling the deck. Ant’s good on ball, good at navigating screens. Maybe a little length on Kyrie could help. Obviously length on Doncic hadn’t really been effective, hasn’t been bothering him as much. So we just tried something different.”

The Wolves host Game 5 on Thursday night, finally carrying some momentum after the 105-100 victory.

“Just wash our hands with this one,” Irving said. “They got a win. They’re a great team. I’ve been saying it all series. We expect them to do the same thing in Minnesota: come out with that physicality and play to their home crowd and make things difficult on me and Luka.”

Doncic averaged 32.7 points on 46.4% shooting over the first three games. He went 7 for 21 from the floor and finished with 28 points in Game 4. Irving averaged 27.7 points on 52.5% shooting over the first three games. He went 6 for 18 from the floor and finished with 16 points in Game 4.

The daunting duo not only dominated the first three games with their shots, but the laser-like passing of Doncic in particular set up the Mavericks for well-timed and wide-open 3-pointers — or lobs for dunks by Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II. The center tandem minimized the impact of Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and frequently caught fellow big man Karl-Anthony Towns out of position.

The Wolves, after limiting defending champion Denver to an average under 98 points over their seven-game series in the second round — including final scores of 70, 80 and 90 — allowed an average of 111 points to Dallas over the first three games.

“It’s always being around them,” McDaniels said, “and trying to make it hard for them.”

The Edwards-McDaniels shuffle clearly made a difference. Now the question is whether the Wolves will stick with what worked most recently and, if so, how the Mavericks will respond.

“He’s a 6-9 wing defender that I’m seeing now for the first time from the start of the game, so it’s going to be an adjustment, but I love it,” Irving said of McDaniels. “I relish in these type of opportunities. It’s not the first time I’ve gone against a taller defender.”

The Mavs would get a big lift if their tallest defender suits back up. The 7-foot-1 rookie Lively was held out of Game 4 with a sprained neck suffered in a collision with Towns’ knee in Game 3. Lively has been upgraded to questionable for Game 5, according to the league’s official injury report.

No team in the history of the NBA playoffs has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, a well-documented statistic the Wolves would love to flip. Of the 155 teams before the Wolves who have fallen behind 3-0, only 11 of them have even forced a Game 6, and just four of them went to a Game 7.

The only one of those teams to make Game 7 that was the higher seed with home-court advantage in those series was Boston just last year, before falling to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.

So here are the Wolves, eager for at least one more game in front of their fans in what has been a remarkable ride for a team that hadn’t escaped the first round in 20 years — let alone posted a winning record in most of those seasons.

“It’ll be rocking. The fans will probably be going crazy,” McDaniels said. “We’re going to try to come out with a win. Because all of a sudden, you win one, and who knows?