Clutch down the stretch, Timberwolves hang on to defeat Bucks, 113-108

The Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is defended by the Minnesota Timberwolves' Jarred Vanderbilt (8) during the first half at Fiserv Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in Milwaukee. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images/TNS)
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Chris Hine Star Tribune (TNS)

MILWAUKEE — One loss was all it took for Anthony Edwards to assert himself into a larger leadership role on the Timberwolves and for the group to have their first “testy” practice of the season, according to coach Chris Finch.

The matchup on Wednesday, a road game against the defending champion Bucks, didn’t provide a soft landing for a team that was coming off a subpar showing at home against the Pelicans, a team that was without its best player in Zion Williamson.

Milwaukee was without two of its key players in Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, but it still had two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and two-time All-Star Khris Middleton. The Wolves showed Edwards’ words and that talk of a competitive practice were not simply for show, as they came away with a stunning wire-to-wire victory over Milwaukee, 113-108, at Fiserv Forum.

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The maligned, out-of-rhythm offense got back in tune. D’Angelo Russell played his best game of the season. Jarred Vanderbilt and Jaden McDaniels rebounded with reckless abandon while having to guard Antetokounmpo and Middleton for significant stretches, and the Wolves played like a team that had come closer together over the last 48 hours instead of one that splintered farther apart.

Every time the Wolves tried to make a run, the Wolves had an answer, and they played a complete game that helped them overcome 40 points from Antetokounmpo. Russell shook off two straight dreadful games to finish with 29. Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 while Edwards finished with 25, including four big points in the final minutes.

The Bucks cut it to six on a George Hill 3 after the Wolves dominated most of the night and led double digits most of the fourth. A tip in and then a jumper from Middleton cut it to 108-106 with 34.6 seconds to play. The Wolves struggled to find a bucket to stem Milwaukee’s 9-0 run until Edwards drove for a basket but missed an and-1 opportunity. Ahead 110-108 with 8.2 seconds to play, Edwards hit a pair of free throws to put the Wolves back up four and for good.

The Wolves couldn’t have started the game any better. Their offense was the polar opposite of Monday. Their offense was humming so well with Russell and Edwards running the show that Towns didn’t even attempt a shot until there were 3 minutes, 33 seconds left in the first. The Wolves shot an eye-popping 68% and led 44-34.

The ball was moving but most of all they were just making shots.

They picked that up in the second quarter as Antetokounmpo rested and Patrick Beverley came off the bench to score six points and Naz Reid added seven in the first half. The Wolves scored the first 10 points of the second and led by 20. Antetokounmpo came back in and Milwaukee took a significant bite out of the Wolves’ lead. The Bucks went on a 16-2 run as the Wolves forced some shots on the offensive end and took a step back on the defensive. They held Milwaukee from making it any closer and took a 66-58 lead into the locker room.

Finch turned To Vanderbilt in the starting lineup for the first time this season and Vanderbilt responded with six points and seven rebounds (four offensive) in the first half. He finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds. McDaniels also picked up the slack on the glass with 11 boards.

The Wolves built on that halftime lead in the third instead of letting it vanish. Vanderbilt set the tone early with a couple of offensive rebounds that resulted in second-chance points and the Wolves got the lead back into double digits halfway through the quarter and it stayed there as they entered the fourth ahead 94-79. The Wolves nearly gave it away late, but made enough plays to hold on for the win.

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