For a few moments in the Timberwolves' locker room, Anthony Edwards encouraged teammate Jaylen Nowell that the Wolves were still alive in their series with the Nuggets despite Friday's 120-111 loss, which put them in a 3-0 hole, a deficit no NBA team has ever come back from in a playoff series.
Edwards said how it was still a best of seven series and, "It ain't over."
Then he got dressed, sat down in the leather chair in front of his stall and either looked straight ahead at the mirror in his locker or down at the floor. He didn't move much, didn't look at his phone and said nothing. Then he got up and left without addressing the media.
Edwards' minutes of silence said more than his previous words could. The Wolves are all but done, and everyone in the building felt that Friday night, as Denver is 48 hours away from putting them out of their misery in a tumultuous season.
As Edwards told Nowell, the Wolves aren't out of it yet. But Friday felt like the penultimate chapter of a novel that has had plenty of twists and turns and is nearing an unsatisfying ending with plenty of loose ends.
"It's one that we would love to have back," guard Mike Conley said.
Edwards did all he could. He scored 36 points, but he didn't have the requisite help to overcome a well-oiled Nuggets machine.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 and Rudy Gobert added 18 but the Wolves got just 10 points from their bench and again, late-game offensive execution was a glaring problem. Edwards had to do it all most of the game, and so he felt like he had to do it all in the final minutes. That led to some empty offensive possessions and a Denver core that has years of experience showed the Wolves, who have shuffled personnel because of injuries or trades from the beginning of the season, just how far they have to go to reach a level of contention.
"It's been a different team each and having to adjust to that. … It's been an ongoing transition for us," said Conley, who had 12 points. "At the end of the day, a lot of that has nothing to do with why we win or lose games. A lot of it is the small things and effort we put in to win."
Denver has done those things throughout the series, and now they are one game from turning the Wolves into a minor speed bump on their way to a potential title.
The Wolves cut the Nuggets lead to three with 10 minutes, 32 seconds in the fourth quarter. They never got within one possession again.
"We couldn't get enough stops in a row. And when we did … our decision-making on offense just kind of let us down," coach Chris Finch said.
Nikola Jokic had his first triple-double of the series with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists while MIchael Porter Jr. led the Nuggets with 25.
The Wolves had four turnovers in the final 5:25, and their inability to execute down the stretch of an important game was a fitting way for their season to reach a virtual finish line. That area of their game has been a problem all year, and they never corrected it. That's where the Wolves' lack of playing together as a team has shown up the most and where Denver, whose core has been together a few years, has a decided advantage over the Wolves.
"Like I've been on teams that have been together for four, five years and you just know you've been running a play all game this next time you run it, you're going to back cut," Conley said. "You've been setting it up all game and something you've done all year, 82 games, guys know exactly what to do, how fast to cut, when to look for the pass. We're still learning that."
But the Wolves' issues extend beyond just needing the necessary time to jell, Gobert said.
"It's also our mindset," Gobert said. "We can't just say chemistry. Do the things the game needs. … It's a little bit on us to just learn, grow, mature and yeah, just winning. Winning before anything else. On the court, off the court everything matters."
Seated next to Gobert during his postgame news conference was a clearly frustrated Towns, who mostly stared down at the table in front of him. From time to time, Towns sports a sullen demeanor when addressing the media. Given that he was injured most of the season, this was one of the few times he was like this in a postgame setting. His voice barely rose above a whisper.
"It hurts, this game really hurt," Towns said. "Just got to execute at a higher level if we want to reach that level."
There's no more room for error.
"Obviously it's back against the wall," Conley said. "All the way against the wall."