OKLAHOMA CITY — Anthony Edwards did not celebrate after driving down the middle of the Oklahoma City Thunder defense and throwing down a ferocious, two-handed dunk in traffic, a critical play in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 107-101 win Monday night with first place in the Western Conference at stake.
Edwards instead complained as the Thunder called a timeout after his basket that pushed Minnesota’s lead to four points with 1:57 remaining. Edwards grabbed his left wrist immediately after landing, indicating that he thought he was fouled on the play. He stared at crew chief Mark Lindsay, standing a few feet away on the baseline, and threw his arms up in an animated shrug before grabbing his left wrist again.
Edwards kept his composure as the Timberwolves closed out the victory — keyed by a dominant defensive performance led by center Rudy Gobert and forward Jaden McDaniels — and made a point to repeatedly criticize the officiating afterward. He declared during his on-court postgame interview on the Timberwolves’ TV broadcast: “I’m going to take the fine, because the refs did not give us no calls tonight,” and continued harping on the issue in the locker room.
“The refs was bad tonight. Yeah, they was terrible,” Edwards told ESPN without prompting. “We was playing 8-on-5.”
Edwards led the Timberwolves with 27 points, shooting 10-of-20 from the floor and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Edwards thought he earned several more trips to the line.
“The cat got their tongue tonight, so it’s all good,” Edwards said of the referees. “It’s not fair, but it’s all good.”
Oklahoma City superstar guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 37 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to keep the Thunder in the game on an off night for Rookie of the Year candidate big man Chet Holmgren, who was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting. McDaniels, a small forward, was the primary defender on Holmgren, allowing Gobert to guard Josh Giddey or whoever was the Thunder’s worst 3-point shooter on floor, sagging off his man to clog up the paint.
Gilgeous-Alexander was 15-of-16 from the line, shooting one more free throw than all of the Timberwolves combined.
“It’s kind of tough to guard him if that’s the case, but we did a pretty good job with just mixing it up and just trying to fly around after that,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “They had some guys that we really shot the ball well from the 3-point line that we were kind of willing to live with, and they hurt us for a bit, but that dried up for them at the right time for us.”
Edwards’ issues with the officiating focused on several no-calls on his drives, not the whistles received by Gilgeous-Alexander, who averages the third-most free throws attempted in the league.
“Him getting to the line, he do that in his sleep,” Edwards said. “Yeah, he’s unstoppable. Nobody can guard him. He’s good. He’s super good. But yeah, the refs was bad tonight.”
Timberwolves power forward Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists, compared the game to a “championship fight” because of the physicality and intensity. The two teams entered the game tied for first place in the West, but they were both coming off losses to last-place teams; the Timberwolves fell in San Antonio on Saturday, and the Thunder were defeated in Detroit on Sunday afternoon.
It was a back-and-forth, tightly contested game for almost the entire fourth quarter, putting the Timberwolves in the kind of clutch situation that had been problematic without point guard Mike Conley, who sat out because of hamstring soreness. Minnesota entered the night 1-3 without Conley, including close losses to the lottery-bound Charlotte Hornets and Spurs the previous week.
The Timberwolves took the lead for good when Edwards read the defense off a pick-and-roll with Gobert and hit McDaniels for an open corner 3 with 2:32 remaining. Edwards drove for his emphatic dunk the next possession.
“He was poised,” Gobert said of Edwards. “He didn’t get the calls but kept his poise, trusted his teammates and made the right play I think 95% of the time, which is amazing.”
The Timberwolves sealed the win with some smothering defense, highlighted by a travel by Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams on the ensuing possession when he drove down the lane but shuffled his feet under pressure from three-time Defensive Player of the Year Gobert.
“That’s what I live for — winning plays,” said Gobert, who had 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, 18 rebounds and a team-best plus-11 plus-minus. “That’s why I’m here, and that’s what I take a lot of pride doing on the floor on both ends. Obviously, when it’s two minutes left in a game and it’s a tight game or it’s a close game, everything goes up — focus, intensity. That’s what I love to do.”
It was a victory that epitomized the type of team that the Timberwolves, who have the league’s top-ranked defense, strive to be.
“When we play with that mindset, it’s fun, and we get to see what it looks like to maximize our potential,” Gobert said.
As enjoyable as the win was, Edwards was exasperated by what he considered unfavorable officiating. The 22-year-old, a first-time All-Star last season who is averaging career bests of 25.9 points and 5.3 assists, said he doesn’t think he gets the same respect from referees as other stars in the league. He was willing to accept a fine from the league office to vent some frustration after Monday’s win.
“I haven’t earned [referees’ respect] yet, so it’s OK,” Edwards said. “But I think tonight was bad from the refs. It was terrible. We didn’t get no calls as a team. I got fouled multiple times, and I’m walking up to the ref telling him, ‘Hey, can you watch this?’ They just shaking their head. Yeah. And then soon somebody come down from their team and get bumped, it’s a foul.
“So I just feel like it wasn’t a fair game tonight from the jump. And so that’s why I’m super happy we won the game.”