April 15, 2024

Cold 3-point shooting by Anthony Edwards, Wolves is too much to overcome in loss to Bulls

Anthony Edwards sat in front of his locker, his head down and eyelids drooping. He was tired but spoke to his teammates like he could not understand why.

“My legs are like JELL-O,” he said to Rudy Gobert.

There was exasperation and frustration in his tone. He knows what is on the line right now for the Minnesota Timberwolves. One little stumble, like the 109-101 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, can be so damaging.

The Timberwolves walked into Target Center for the game sitting in first place in the Western Conference after one of their most impressive victories of the season two nights earlier, a pummeling of the defending champions in Denver. After losing to the Bulls (36-39) for the second time this season and a last-second, game-winning jumper by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to lift the Oklahoma City Thunder (52-22) over the New York Knicks, the Timberwolves (51-23) dropped to third place.

Edwards blamed himself. When Naz Reid and Mike Conley were doing postgame interviews, Edwards raised his voice so the whole locker room could hear it as he mimicked what he thought his teammates should be saying to those asking questions.

“Ant couldn’t hit a damn thing,” he said.

“Ant’s jumper was broke,” he said.

Edwards went 0 of 5 from 3-point range against the Bulls. He is 0 of 13 in the last two games and just 6 of 26 (23 percent) in his last five. It’s a tiny sample size. Shooting slumps are bound to happen in a long season. Edwards appears to be in a little one right now with eight games to go before the playoffs begin.

“They felt good. I thought they all were going in,” Edwards said. “They just hit front rim, so that just means I ain’t got no legs. So I’ve got to figure that part out.”

The burden has always been great on his shoulders, but Edwards has had to assume even more responsibility since Karl-Anthony Towns had knee surgery. He has handled it with aplomb, increasing his playmaking, reducing his turnovers and unveiling a new nimbleness with his footwork near the rim that leaves opposing defenders reaching for air nightly.

Edwards was 9 of 15 from two-point range on Sunday and also had 11 rebounds and five assists, finding a way to stay in the fight when his shot wasn’t falling. But he missed two layups in the fourth quarter and, in a cruel twist, appeared to finally hit a 3 only to realize that he had his foot on the line. He also turned the ball over six times, his most in almost three months.

The Wolves will be home for much of the week with games against Houston on Tuesday and Toronto on Wednesday. That will give Edwards some time to work through the funk and regain his shooting touch as his team jockeys for position in the playoff picture.

No one on the team is worried about his shot. Edwards has been terrific all season long, an All-NBA season that has the Wolves with a realistic shot at being the No. 1-seeded team in the West as they enter the final weeks of the regular season. He has hovered around 37 percent shooting from deep all season long, more than good enough considering his vast array of tricks in his bag when he gets to the midrange and attacks the rim. But the 3-point shooting percentage has dipped to 36.7 percent with his little slide recently.

“I don’t think I have to say a word to him,” said Mike Conley, who had 19 points on 5 of 9 3-point shooting and seven assists. “You know how confident he is. The first thing he said is he’s getting right back in the gym, continue to do what he’s been doing. He’s had an awesome year shooting the ball.”

And Edwards wasn’t the only one struggling with his jumper against the Bulls. Jaden McDaniels cooled off from the heater he has been on of late. He missed 5 of 6 3-point attempts, including all three in the fourth quarter. Naz Reid was 4 of 15 from the field and 3 of 9 from deep and Nickeil Alexander-Walker missed 4 of 5 3s.

“We just missed shots,” Reid lamented. “We had the lead in the fourth and yeah, we just missed shots.”

The Timberwolves rallied from a 16-point deficit to lead 99-96 when Edwards hit a free throw with 5 minutes, 9 seconds to play. But the Wolves would score just two more points for the rest of the game as the hot-shooting Bulls zoomed past them.

Chicago started the game on fire with Alex Caruso hitting his first six 3s. The Bulls with their ball movement and some slow feet from the Wolves’ No. 1-ranked defense racked up 64 points on 66 percent shooting in the first half to lead by as many as 16. At one point midway through the second quarter, the Bulls were shooting 70 percent from the field and had hit 8 of 10 3s.

“I thought they had way too many open 3s in the first half,” said Gobert, who had 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting and 10 rebounds. “We knew they were drive-and-kick, but I feel like we were overhelping a lot, especially with me in the paint most of the time.”

Minnesota’s defense tightened in the third quarter to help it get back into the game. But by that point, the Bulls were already in a rhythm. DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points, Caruso had 21 on 7-of-8 shooting from 3 and Nikola Vučević had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

“They certainly were hot, but I think we gotta do a better job of A, containing the ball, and B, closing out with a little bit more urgency,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said.

Finch said he took responsibility for some game plan mistakes in the opening two quarters with Vučević’s ability to pick and pop in the midrange. It took the Wolves too long to adjust. Once they did, the Bulls shooters had watched the ball go through the basket enough to build the confidence that they could pull off the upset. Chicago is 2-0 against the Wolves this season, giving them problems with their outside shooting and size down low with Vučević and Andre Drummond.

As much as the defense did not help them on Sunday night, it was the offensive execution late that doomed Minnesota. The Wolves have been much more precise and efficient in fourth quarters lately after struggling mightily in that category for much of the season. But they went just 2 of 12 from 3 in the fourth against the Bulls, unable to get that one shot that could have broken the game in their favor.

“I thought we generated pretty good looks, pretty much all night long,” Finch said. “There were some patches where we didn’t, but for the most part I thought we did a good job of generating good looks, and they just didn’t go in. To match their shooting, we needed them to go in.”

The Wolves were 11 of 37 from 3 (29.7 percent) and turned the ball over 15 times, which led to 21 points for Chicago. Minnesota has been one of the league’s best 3-point shooting teams for most of the season and currently sits in fourth at 38.7 percent. There are going to be nights like that in the NBA when the opponent can’t miss and the home team can’t buy a bucket.

“We gave them 3s. They had to shoot them,” Gobert said. “They were wide open. A lot of them were uncontested in the first half. It’s not who we are, especially when I’m there. We gotta stick to what we do.”

(Photo of Anthony Edwards, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu: David Berding / Getty Images)