The Timberwolves’ Big Three continue to prove themselves, thanks to a remarkable improvement in the regular season, a comeback win over the Clippers and Saturday’s playoff win over the second-seeded Grizzlies.
Anthony Edwards becomes a superstar.
Karl-Anthony Towns keeps its long-standing promise.
The other member of the Big Three also passes these tests.
It’s not D’Angelo Russell, although he fits in well in Minnesota because he can lead the offense and shoot, is friends with Towns and is not Andrew Wiggins.
It’s not Jaden McDaniels, although he may be on his way to fame. On Saturday, he produced 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocks and a game-high plus-19 in just 25 minutes. He was essential to the victory.
The third member of the Timberwolves’ Big Three doesn’t wear shorts to games. It’s the trainer, Chris Finch.
Being part of an NBA Big Three means you’re indispensable.
Wolves might be able to replace Russell with a similar player, maybe even a better player.
McDaniels is essential to their success and has plenty of room for growth, but he has a lot to prove.
The three people Wolves can’t afford to lose are Edwards, Towns and Finch. Lose any of those three, and a historically dismal franchise would be forced to start over.
This is a message to outgoing billionaire owner Glen Taylor, new billionaire owner Mark Lore and awkward selfie taker Alex Rodriguez: Signing Finch to a lucrative contract extension was the right move, and if he wants another five or 10 years, make it happen. He has a shot at becoming the best coach in franchise history.
Most coaches have a niche. Finch, honoring the state of hockey, has a warming house.
What’s most remarkable about Finch’s coaching is that he never seems to lose a player. He will eventually. No one goes undefeated in this business or any other NBA business.
But look what his honest and sympathetic approach has brought this season:
• Taurean Prince was poor at the start of the season and Finch benched him. Prince would return as a better version of himself, without having caused any problems on the outside, and is now a vital part of a playoff rotation.
• Jordan McLaughlin found himself out of the rotation. He would come back as a better, even more effective version of himself, without having caused any problems on the outside, and is now an important part of a playoff rotation.
• Once-a-starter Josh Okogie is now left out of the rotation but has spoken eloquently about handling his demotion with class.
Towns is the newest and largest member of the Bounce Back Bunch.
In the play-in game, he played without confidence or intelligence, playing directly into the hands of Ty Lue’s defense, committing a foul and jeopardizing his team’s season.
Finch didn’t turn that into a crisis, and so on Saturday Towns played like a different human – like the star he is – as Wolves looked to be the better team as the seventh seed playing a second seed.
Wolves do not improve by 23 games, win this qualifier or win on Saturday with Tom Thibodeau as coach.
Thibs is a capable coach who wears down everyone around him, whether through his personality or his playing time. That’s why it was so funny when Towns, when asked on Saturday when he last played 43 minutes in a regulation game, joked: “Thibs”.
Ryan Saunders wouldn’t have taken this team this far, although he could become that kind of coach over time.
Few coaches in franchise history could have accomplished that. Perhaps Flip Saunders, although Flip, good at creating open midrange jumps, should have adapted to modern offensive realities. Maybe Dwane Casey, if he had a chance and the right players. Possibly Rick Adelman, if Wolves had employed him in his prime.
What is certain is that Finch, Edwards and Towns – two young stars and their ideal coach – give Wolves a powerful core for the foreseeable future.
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