SAN FRANCISCO – There was a pattern that formed in the play-by-play log during the fourth quarter of the Timberwolves' 116-110 victory over the Warriors. From the 6 minute, 51 second mark to the 5:59 mark, the Wolves had three offensive possessions. They were all missed threes in isolation offense from Anthony Edwards.
Then at the 5:14 mark, point guard Mike Conley checked back into the game and had a message for Edwards, who finished the night 1-for-9 from three-point range.
"Mike just tells me, 'No more threes, man. Get inside the three-point line. It ain't falling.' He pretty much just told me to get to the line," Edwards said. "They're calling fouls tonight for you so get to the line. My middy [midrange] started to fall late. That helped me a lot."
The veteran wisdom paid off. Almost immediately, Conley, who had eight points and nine assists, changed the tenor of the game for the Wolves' late-game offense end as they threatened to get stuck. In addition to his words of advice for Edwards, Conely commandeered the offense from him as well and got things set up in the next few Wolves possessions.
After another Edwards missed three, Conley sank an 11-foot jumper. Then, after Stephen Curry hit three free throws, the kind of call that goes against the Wolves that might cause them to unravel in recent years, Conley got to the rim for another layup and the Wolves maintained a double-digit lead throughout most of the fourth quarter.
This was part of the plan Conley said he discussed with coach Chris Finch before he re-entered the game.
"I talked to Finchy, and he said, 'Go get the ball and call a couple plays' that involve me in them," Conley said. "In those situations when stuff's getting dicey, I just want to be able to get a good shot, get settled, stuff I've done a bunch of times, and then let Ant handle it like he does.
"Just trying to steady the ship as best I can when things get a little frantic."
Then, Edwards took Conley's advice to heart in the remaining minutes. He stopped shooting threes and got to the midrange and to the hoop more often. Edwards scored on four straight Wolves possessions, beginning with 2:28 to play. He got two free throws, a layup and hit two midrange jumpers. Those buckets iced the game for the Wolves.
This continues a theme Conley wants to imprint on this Wolves team: Late in games, when the score is getting tight and shots are harder to get, he is taking it upon himself to run the offense and help get his teammates better shots.
"Calming effect," Finch said. "You know he's going to make the right decision. He can get to his spot to take his shot. Puts a lot of pressure on the defense because he keeps the ball in his hands. Makes them commit, and rarely does he turn it over. He's a true point guard with a ton of experience playing at a high level and have every confidence in those situations."
The Wolves have been able to withstand teams making runs at them thanks in large part to their defense. But the way their late-game offense has shifted this season has also helped in key games like Sunday and in a recent win over Boston, when Conley did the same thing — taking over when the offense went stagnant.
"It's huge," center Rudy Gobert said of Conley's fourth-quarter contributions. "The key for us is to keep staying within the flow of the game. Last year, and early in the season sometimes, we would tend to think that the last two minutes we've got to play iso or we've got stop moving the ball, and that's when we get those tougher shots, those turnovers and we put ourselves sometimes in a tougher position.
"When we just keep playing the right way, keep moving the ball, keep attacking, we got so much talent on this team that we're really tough to guard."
Conley has been the one to make sure that happens late.