Clippers face must-win play-in game after blowing late lead

The Clippers had a plan.

Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell delivered clutch plays consistently. Patrick Beverley provided the ferocity in an emotional victory over his former club.

The Minnesota Timberwolves proved they belong in the playoffs, and that uncommon air is exactly where they’re heading for this organization.

In a play-in game on Tuesday night, Edwards and Russell combined for 59 points to help the Timberwolves overcome a difficult night for Karl-Anthony Towns and upset the Los Angeles Clippers 109-104.

Los Angeles Clippers

“The game had to go in a different direction,” coach Chris Finch said. “That’s why you have a team because a lot of other people step up.”

Edwards scored 30 points, including five 3-pointers, and Russell added 29 points and six assists to help the Wolves earn the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and a first-round meeting against Memphis.

Beverley rejoiced as they went off Target Center’s floor, hurling a ball in the air, leaping atop the scorer’s table, and grasping his white headband with both hands before sitting down to stop the tears that continued coming after Minnesota’s 109-104 play-in tournament victory.

After the Clippers looked to have sealed this game, a team that had only made one playoff appearance since 2004 secured a cathartic first-round series against Memphis.

The Clippers did an excellent job of disrupting Karl-Anthony Towns by forcefully defending him and forcing offensive fouls. Towns fouled out with 7 minutes 34 seconds left and L.A. was ahead by seven points with only 11 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes. However, even with a 10-point advantage, the Clippers were unable to complete the task, implying that they lacked a backup plan after their initial effort had been so successful.

“We had a game plan for how we were going to attack them,” stated coach Tyronn Lue. “And they played a lot better when KAT wasn’t on the court.”

Instead of being buried, the Timberwolves were emboldened in front of a raging crowd, their youthful core undaunted against a playoff-tested Clippers roster while led by Anthony Edwards’ 30 points and D’Angelo Russell’s 29, and Beverley’s under-their-skin antics helped limit the Clippers to long field-goal droughts in the second and fourth quarters.

And after the Clippers failed to make the most of their chances, they have just one more chance to extend their season, hosting the winner of the play-in game between ninth-place New Orleans and 10th-place San Antonio on Friday in a win-or-else game at Arena for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

Los Angeles Clippers

When Nicolas Batum was guarding Towns, Ivica Zubac, the Timberwolves’ center, would frequently lunge at him after catching the ball. Reggie Jackson rushed in for a swipe as George surged by Towns before Zubac’s straight-up defense knocked Towns to the floor.

Towns missed his first seven attempts, didn’t shoot free throws until four minutes left in the first half, and was repeatedly calmed down on the bench by teammates while fouled.

“Are you kidding me?” Towns started following his fourth foul of the half. “What do you want me to do?” he said to Russell on the sidelines.

The odd behavior of a lady running onto the court late in the half and attempting to glue her wrists to the floor below a basket, purportedly in protest of Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, was only somewhat more surprising than the Timberwolves staying, given their grievances.

With injured guard Luke Kennard out, the Clippers offense, which had led the league in scoring since George’s return in late March, turned catatonic, making just one field goal in the last 7:20 before halftime and nine points in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter. The Clippers made 16 of 35 three-point attempts but only 12 of 28 in the paint. Lineups featuring a center and lineups with all wings all become bogged down at some point.

There were nine Clippers turnovers in the first half. Marcus Morris Sr. drew an unnecessary technical penalty, and George hit two of his first ten shots.

Lue was concerned about Russell’s scoring — he scored seven fourth-quarter points, including a dagger 23-footer to put the game out of reach with two minutes remaining, and Lue wished he’d blitzed the guard more often. Lue was concerned about rebounds, and the Clippers got 10 fewer. Lue anticipated that Beverley would attempt to upset his old colleagues, and he did so, his seven-point, 11-rebound line not even come close to measuring the cockiness he provided a club that had no baseline for postseason energy.