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Anthony Edwards and Timberwolves finish strong to fend off Trail Blazers

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After the Timberwolves lost six straight games, coach Chris Finch said he was going to re-examine how he distributes minutes. In other words, whatever combination of players Finch thinks gives Wolves the best chance of winning a game is going to play.

The way Finch sounded it, there would be fewer critical time minutes for players based solely on their big salaries or previous pedigree, and more minutes for those who played well tonight- the.

So in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 113-106 win over Portland, Finch stayed with a lineup of Anthony Edwards, Austin Rivers, Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson and Taurean Prince, who returned after a 20-game absence in due to a shoulder injury. When asked if this lineup was indicative of this newly installed meritocracy, Finch replied, “Heck yeah. One hundred percent.”

Notably absent from the final 9 minutes, 23 seconds was D’Angelo Russell, who had nine points on 1-for-6 shooting to go with seven assists.

As Finch later explained, the decision to seat Russell was not an impeachment of the way Russell was playing, and even praised Russell’s defense of Anfernee Simons, but the group that closed the game did it well. They stayed on the ground and it paid off in a win.

“It wasn’t anything anti-DLo about the way we closed the game,” Finch said. “For me, it came down to saves. Those two guards [Damian Lillard and Simons] are so explosive. … We wanted to be a heavy switch team and we wanted to control the perimeter and have Rudy control the paint. This training gave us the best chance to do that.”

The defense worked as Finch envisioned, with the Trail Blazers scoring just 11 points after cutting Wolves’ lead to 96-95 with 6:03 remaining.

Offensively, the formation has worked as Anthony Edwards continues to flourish as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, especially in key situations. He said he felt tired towards the end of the match; his teammates kept telling him to push through.

“They were like, ‘Man, I don’t care how tired you are, bro. You gotta win this game,’” Edwards said.

His three with 3:08 left gave Wolves a 105-100 lead and Portland never had a possession again.

Edwards didn’t have an effective box score (just 11 for 26 and 32 points), but was 5 for 9 for 13 points in the fourth quarter as he hit several key baskets that helped Wolves to walk away. When asked if he had earned Finch’s trust to lead the offense in these situations, Edwards replied, “I hope so.”

“He did an amazing job tonight playing with great force in the last five minutes,” Finch said.

Edwards added: “Finch is my dog. Whatever he calls we’ll make it work, whether it’s for me, for whoever it is, we’ll make it.”

Luka Garza scored 14 points in a perfect 5v5 from the bench. Rivers (seven points), as well as Prince (11) and Jaden McDaniels (eight) helped keep Lillard from an explosive game. He had 27 for 7 for 18 from the field but 11 for 15 from the foul line. Gobert was active on both ends of the field with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

But it was Edwards who made most of the good plays late in the game.

His desire to do so has earned the respect of his teammates, even at times when he may make the wrong call, Rivers said. Rivers spoke enthusiastically of Edwards’ development and marveled that Edwards would not reach his peak for about six years.

“The young dude is listening,” Rivers said. “That’s the most impressive thing about Ant since I’ve been here. Usually a guy like that, sometimes it’s hard to talk just because they have everything. But he doesn’t act like that He just wants to continually improve.”

Wolves need him to stay on this track.

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