Thursday, June 13, 2024

Finch: Towns’ struggles in Game 3 ‘hard to watch’

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DALLAS — Minnesota Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is having a historically difficult start to the Western Conference finals. After another rough night from Towns in the Wolves’ 116-107 Game 3 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, there was no sugarcoating it from his coach, Chris Finch.

“He struggled, of course,” Finch said after Towns scored 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting, including going 0-for-8 from 3 as Minnesota dropped to one game away from elimination. “It was hard to watch at times.”

Finch might have wanted to cover his eyes the most in the fourth quarter, when Towns went scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting (0-for-3 from 3) as Minnesota was outscored 14-3 in the final five minutes.

“I’ve got to laugh,” Towns said after the game. “I’m putting up to 1,500 shots a day. Shot so well all playoffs, confidence extremely high. To be having these unfortunate bounces and these looks that are just not going in, it’s tough. It’s tough, for sure. I’m good confidence-wise. Just got to keep shooting.”

Towns, who was benched for nearly the last nine minutes of the Wolves’ Game 2 loss, is now shooting 27.8% for the series. That mark is the fourth-worst field goal percentage by any player through the first three games of a conference or divisional finals in the shot clock era, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

His 3-point shooting, extending back to the conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, has also been unprecedentedly poor. Towns is 4-for-32 (12.5%) on 3s in his past five games, which is the worst 3-point percentage over a five-game span among players with 30 or more 3-point attempts in NBA postseason history.

“I think KAT’s got to just do a better job of maybe getting back to his old self, of finding himself around the basket more,” Wolves reserve Kyle Anderson said. “Rim running, taking advantage of mismatches. He’s obviously a really good player, and he’s big time for us, so we need him to get going. So, it’s our job to put him in the right position. The 3s will fall.”

Towns flashed that type of game in the third quarter Sunday when he scored 9 points, going 3-for-4 from the field and 3-for-3 from the foul line, without attempting a single 3-pointer. The effort helped Minnesota outscore Dallas 35-27 in the third quarter to tie it 87-87 going into the fourth.

But in the final frame, when the Wolves were making a final push — trailing by four and pushing it up the court after a Jaden McDaniels steal on Luka Doncic — Towns might have had his costliest miss. He clanked a step-back 3 off the front rim with 1:25 to go, taking the shot with 17 seconds left on the shot clock, and the Mavs tacked on a 7-2 run from there to win.

Towns is hardly the only reason the Wolves find themselves in a 3-0 hole, of course.

Their clutch-time execution has been lacking in all three losses. The Wolves are the first team to fall down 3-0 in a series while holding a lead at any point in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter in each game since at least 1998, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Basketball is not a perfect science, but we got to find ways to raise our level when it matters,” Rudy Gobert said. “The last six minutes, everything has got to be on a higher level from this point. Everything. … So we got to just keep trusting one another. Individually, look at all the things that can be better and then collectively, keep being who we are.”

Edwards, who scored a team-high 26 points but scored only four in the fourth quarter and shot just 11-for-24 overall with five turnovers, was asked if anything from the box score stood out to him after Game 3.

“They had 31 free throws,” he said, “we had 17.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the Wolves missed as many free throws as the Mavs did (five) despite those 14 fewer attempts.

Whatever frustration Edwards felt about the fouls, he didn’t let it dampen his outlook for Tuesday’s Game 4.

“We can’t do nothing but be positive at this point. We can’t be negative. Just try to get it one win at a time,” Edwards said. “I never seen the sky falling. I don’t know, I’m always positive, always happy. I’ve been through the worst so the sky is never falling for me.”

The sky has indeed eventually fallen on every other team in league history to go down 3-0, as teams are 0-154 all time in that situation.

“It’s first to four,” Wolves backup big man Naz Reid said. “I don’t think we’re worried. … If anybody can win four straight, I think it would be us.”

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