I’m mad at Chris Finch.

I’m furious about the decisions made in the final moments of Friday’s game. I can only imagine what it must have been like for diehard Minnesota Timberwolves fans to watch their head coach flounder at the end of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals — to see him make the wrong substitutions, the wrong play calls, the wrong defensive plan.

Look, I don’t have a real dog in this fight. If the Wolves lose this series, it will not make a difference to me in the grand scheme of things. But, since the Utah Jazz are well into their offseason, it gives me the chance to enjoy basketball as a fan, which is a rarity in my life. It’s the small window in which I can watch the NBA without pure objectivity. And I hitched my wagon onto the Wolves train.

Why? Because Mike Conley might be the best overall person that I’ve covered in my 11 years covering the NBA. Because I watched Rudy Gobert day after day, and rooting for him gives me another familiar piece to latch on to. Because Anthony Edwards is 22 years old and just so good and so fun.

So I went into Friday already pulling for the Wolves, and if they would have come up short because of talent disparity alone, I would have tipped my proverbial cap to the Mavericks. But that’s not how things unfolded. Instead, the Mavericks outplayed Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch and made me rethink my decision to put faith in him.

There were certainly reasons to be upset with the coaching earlier in the night, but let’s focus on the very final moments of the game.

With 47 seconds left to play, the Mavericks challenged an out-of-bounds call and won the challenge (the fact that the officials could not review that play and correctly assess Kyrie Irving a foul is a whole other column that will have to wait for another day). At that moment, with just a two-point lead over the Mavs, Finch took Mike Conley out of the game and put Rudy Gobert in.

You guys know the Mike Conley I’m talking about, right? The one that was defensively huge and a large reason the Wolves mounted an 18-point lead earlier in the game on Friday. The one that Anthony Edwards credited with fixing the Timberwolves offense this season. The one that is by far the best decision maker on the Timberwolves roster. The one who’s nickname is literally Captain Clutch. That’s the guy that Finch subbed out of the game with 47 seconds to play.

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On the ensuing possession, the Wolves defense rotates perfectly and Luka Doncic was forced to take a tough, mid-range, fadeaway jumper. The Timberwolves secure the rebound and cross half court with 25.7 seconds left on the game clock and 18 seconds on the shot clock.

The problem is that the ball is not in the hands of the best decision maker on the team. It’s Edwards with the ball. I’m not saying that you don’t want the ball in his hands at the end of a game. I would love to see him coming off a screen to get the ball and make a scoring play, and there’s probably a day in the very near future where he is the guy making all of the late-game decisions. But on Friday he went 5-for-17 on the night and Conley was very clearly the guy you want running that final offensive possession.

What ended up happening was Edwards dribbled into traffic, missed a wide open Jaden McDaniels in the right corner, picked up his dribble too early and then made a horrible pass to the left side of the court that went sailing out of bounds with 12.8 seconds left to play.

Finch himself even said it was a mistake that Conley wasn’t on the floor.

“That’s on me in the sense that I should have called a timeout to get Mike back in the game,” he said.

Yes. That’s on him. It’s also on him for just letting Edwards do whatever weird thing he wanted to do there instead of making a play call that resulted in a clean look or telling Edwards to push into the paint and get some contact.

Then, on the other end, after a Mavericks timeout, which should have allowed the Wolves ample time to stress to the players the need to over play the 3-point line, the defense wasn’t ready.

Minnesota was still in the lead. They were up 108-106. If they blitz or double or even over play the 3, the worst thing that happens is the Mavericks score a two and then you fight it out in overtime. If you allow a 3, especially from Luka Doncic, you might not have enough time to get a good look and you lose the game, which is exactly what happened.

McDaniels dropped after getting switched onto Dereck Lively, leaving Gobert on an island to guard one of the best step-back shooters we’ve ever seen.

And I know what some people will say.

Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year, he should be able to guard that. Stop. When Marcus Smart or Ron Artest or Gary Payton were dunked on by big men, no one doubted their defensive ability. They aren’t meant to be stopping those kinds of plays. Gobert is an incredible defender who is absolutely deserving of his four DPOY awards, but that doesn’t mean that what he’s best at is guarding in isolation against one of the best step-back shooters ever.

Well, the Mavericks did a great job of getting the switch and making it hard to double. Yeah, that stuff happens all the time and McDaniels should have been told that Naz Reid was going to cover at the post so that they could pressure Doncic on the 3-point line. There should have been a major plan in place to prevent the ONE thing that the Wolves didn’t want to happen. I know that the Mavs flattened out and Edwards was wary of leaving Irving on the right side. That’s fine. But McDaniels should have been told to double. The Wolves have been great when they are put into rotations and have to recover with help defense, and they should have done that on that final Dallas possession.

Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, top center, watches from the bench during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, top center, watches from the bench during the second half of Game 2 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Minneapolis. | Bruce Kluckhohn, Associated Press

Well, maybe the fault is with McDaniels and not Finch. I present to the court Finch Exhibit B. When he was asked if he considered doubling Doncic:

“No. The idea was to switch up, press him inside the 3-point line.”

OK. So Gobert, who had five fouls, should have been really overplaying the 3 and pushing up against Doncic to try to force him inside. Bad idea. A defender with more experience on the perimeter who is less likely to foul or bite on a pump fake resulting in three free throws should have been there to do the job, or it should have been a double-team.

Instead, the casual NBA observers will once again pile on Gobert over the next two days and he will pay the price for Finch’s missteps. Meanwhile, Minnesota fans watched a chance to tie the series end in flames and now the Timberwolves are headed to Dallas, where the Mavericks lead the series, 2-0.

There is no denying that Doncic is one of the best players in the game and made an unreal shot on Friday night. He’s an absolute machine and he deserves all the credit in the world for what he’s able to do. That doesn’t mean that Finch is blameless. In fact, it makes his decisions look worse.