The Wolves Erased A Double-Digit Fourth Quarter Deficit To Beat The Clippers In The Play-In

The Minnesota Timberwolves finished the 2020-21 campaign with a 23-49 record and, even with optimism of improvement in 2021-22, the Wolves were not widely projected as a playoff team. On Tuesday, the Wolves cemented their place in the Western Conference Playoffs, outlasting the L.A. Clippers by a 109-104 margin in the Play-In Tournament to earn the No. 7 seed and set up a best-of-seven clash with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Wolves threw the first punch in the form of a 7-2 run. Anthony Edwards made his first three shots to give his team the lead and signal what was to come in a productive first half.

Almost immediately, the Clippers seized control, scoring 10 consecutive points. The Wolves didn’t scratch for almost four minutes, and L.A. led for the lion’s share of the first half.

The Clippers led by as many as nine points in the opening quarter, taking advantage of a cold start from Karl-Anthony Towns and virtually everyone by Edwards on the Minnesota side. Even with a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Jaden McDaniels, the Wolves trailed by six points after 12 minutes.

Minnesota shot 36 percent with eight turnovers in the opening period. Fortunately, the Wolves also caused six turnovers in what was a chaotic quarter, and that chaos continued, particularly when it came to whistles. There were 29 (!) fouls called in the first half of the game, creating a stop-and-start atmosphere, but there was also strong three-point shooting early in the game. The two teams combined to shoot 13-of-21 from three-point range in the first 17 minutes, even with Towns missing his first seven shots and picking up four fouls for Minnesota.

Fortunately for the Wolves, Edwards continued to churn, scoring 15 points in his first 13 minutes of action.

Still, the Clippers led by a 44-36 margin and L.A. led for quite some time. However, the Wolves closed strong behind D’Angelo Russell. Russell scored nine straight points as part of a 17-4 run that turned a deficit into a lead for Minnesota.

Within that run, the Clippers didn’t make a field goal for more than seven full minutes, though L.A. did bury a three-pointer in the final seconds of the second quarter to bring the visitors back within two points. Aside from the back-and-forth nature of the proceedings, foul trouble was a major story, with Towns (four), Edwards (three), Patrick Beverley (three) and Reggie Jackson (three) all facing issues into the break.

Much as it was at times in the first half, the start of the second half was ugly and grueling. Neither team was able to establish a rhythm offensively and, fittingly, the game was knotted at 63-63 midway through the third quarter. Towns finally established some sort of positive baseline but, as quickly as that occurred, the All-Star center picked up his fifth foul and had to sit with 3:47 remaining in the third.

With Towns on the bench, Paul George found his stride. L.A.’s leading scorer exploded for 12 points in three minutes, including a trio of three-pointers, and George was a significant part of the Clippers taking a seven-point lead at 80-73.

George scored 17 points in the third quarter alone, fueling much of the success for the Clippers, but L.A. led by only five points with 12 minutes remaining. The margin was eight in the waning seconds of the period, but Minnesota’s Malik Beasley connected on a buzzer-beating three-pointer that felt significant for the Wolves.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Clippers stagnated a bit on offense, but Terance Mann made sure that hiccup did not come at a cost. Mann blocked two shots in a hurry, including a spectacular rejection, and finished a dunk to help the Clippers build a 10-point advantage.

Minnesota would not fade, though, as the Wolves scored the next seven points, even with Towns fouling out with more than seven minutes remaining. Overall, the Wolves put together a 16-2 run, erasing what seemed to be a comfortable Clippers lead and giving Minnesota a 99-95 lead with four minutes to go.

The Clippers scored only two points for more than five minutes and, when L.A. finally broke that drought with a three-pointer by Batum, Edwards answered with a triple of his own to neutralize its effect. From there, Russell continued his highly productive night with an enormous jumper, giving the Wolves a six-point edge with 1:56 to go.

Following empty trips on both sides, the Clippers badly needed a bucket to stay in touch, and George obliged with a three-pointer. Russell missed on the other end, prying the door open for L.A., but Jackson was unable to finish a driving attempt at the rim. Edwards drew a foul on the other end, extending the lead to 106-101 with 38.5 seconds on the clock. The Clippers then came up empty after a timeout, further cementing control for Minnesota.

L.A. did make a dent when George made a deep triple with 12.5 seconds remaining, but the Wolves were always in a favorable position, ultimately escaping with a five-point win. On a night in which Towns was a complete non-factor, Russell and Edwards combined for 59 points, carrying Minnesota’s offense to overall effectiveness. Beverley was an A-plus irritant while also pulling down 11 rebounds, and Beasley delivered 12 points and a trio of three-pointers off the bench.

Though it is clear that they will need considerably more from Towns moving forward, the Wolves now have three days to prepare for Game 1 against the Grizzlies on Saturday. On the other side, the Clippers must regroup in a hurry and return home to L.A. to face either the New Orleans Pelicans or the San Antonio Spurs for a chance to earn a playoff berth on Friday.