MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves are fired up for the postseason.
Whether they have enough depth and maturity to stay awhile is to be determined.
Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert was sent home after throwing a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson during an argument on the bench in the second quarter Sunday against New Orleans, shortly after ace defender Jaden McDaniels put his availability in doubt by hitting a wall out of frustration.
“This is probably one of the grittier wins I think anyone will ever be a part of. The things we went through in today’s game are not normal. Hit after hit, we just found a way to lean on each other,” point guard Mike Conley said. “The most important thing is we could have easily splintered. Whether it was Kyle and Rudy or hearing news about Jaden, it was one hit after another, but it just brought more out of us. We dug down deep.”
Gobert sent a group-text apology to the team, Conley said. Coach Chris Finch declined to speculate about potential punishment for Gobert, who was playing with back spasms after being listed as questionable.
Gobert also apologized in a post on Twitter.
“Emotions got the best of me today,” he wrote. “I should not have reacted the way i did regardless of what was said.”
Anderson, a fiery but respected leader who has given the Wolves a big boost with his versatility and experience in his first season with the team, engaged in a heated discussion with Gobert about one of the many sequences that had gone wrong to that point while the team was in a huddle during a timeout late in the second quarter.
Gobert then ended the argument by raising his arm to strike Anderson in the upper chest with his hand, before the two were separated and Gobert was taken back to the locker room. Taurean Price also reacted to Gobert’s swing by jumping out of his seat to give Gobert a shove.
“I think tempers just flared," Anderson said afterward. "That's all."
Anderson said he didn't think the two would have trouble getting along moving forward.
“We want to win games. It is what it is. It ain't the first time someone has swung on me,” he said.
President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly issued a statement confirming the Timberwolves decided to send Gobert home after the second-quarter flap.
“His behavior on the bench was unacceptable, and we will handle the situation internally,” said Connelly, whose first big move on the job last summer was to acquire Gobert from Utah in a blockbuster trade.
The Wolves beat the Pelicans 113-108 to finish in eighth place in the Western Conference and draw a play-in tournament matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers by moving ahead of New Orleans in the standings. They were headed to a loss and the lower seed with a lifeless first half.
After Anthony Edwards settled for a step-back 3-pointer that fell short, the Pelicans raced the other way for a dunk by Brandon Ingram for a 48-36 lead that triggered a timeout by Wolves coach Chris Finch with 4:23 remaining before halftime. Then came the fight.
The Wolves announced at halftime that Gobert and McDaniels would not play the rest of the way. McDaniels, it turned out, had hit a wall in the tunnel that leads to the locker room out of frustration in the first quarter and did not return. ESPN and The Athletic reported that McDaniels broke his hand.
“Certainly immaturity has been one of our issues all season,” Finch said.
The Wolves have long been adept at making situations harder on themselves. The easier games have actually been the hardest part for the Wolves this season, with a total of 16 losses to the bottom 10 teams in the league. Win just two more of those, and they would've avoided the play-in tournament. Four more wins, and they would have the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
“But those days are gone. We have to focus now on what we've got and moving forward,” Finch said.