MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves spiraled into a state of chaos Sunday, as they lost breakout forward Jaden McDaniels for the season with a fractured right hand after he punched a wall in frustration and faced the possibility that center Rudy Gobert could be leveled with a team suspension for Tuesday's Western Conference play-in game at the Los Angeles Lakers for striking teammate Kyle Anderson in a huddle, sources told ESPN.
The Timberwolves defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 113-108 to secure the eighth seed in the West, but team officials are weighing whether to keep Gobert off Monday's trip to L.A., sources said Sunday night.
What Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly planned to do with Gobert was still uncertain Sunday night. The team announced after the game that Gobert had been sent home following a verbal altercation with Anderson that escalated into a punch to the chest in a second-quarter huddle during a timeout.
McDaniels punched the wall leading into a tunnel late in the first quarter, an apparent reaction to picking up his second foul. McDaniels immediately started clutching his right hand, and X-rays soon revealed a season-ending fracture, sources said.
It wouldn't be the Timberwolves' final punch of the first half.
Gobert and Anderson were arguing on opposite sides of a second-quarter huddle, with sources describing the verbiage, including Anderson telling Gobert to block some shots and Gobert telling Anderson to grab a "bleeping" rebound. To start, it was a fairly ordinary and emotional NBA huddle with a playoff spot on the line in the final game of the regular season, but sources said Gobert lost his temper and fired a punch into Anderson's chest after Anderson told him to, "Shut the f--- up, b----."
"That's what set Rudy off," one source told ESPN, and soon, the dispute escalated into the 7-foot-1 Gobert stepping past coaches and teammates to throw a punch that landed into Anderson's chest. The two players continued the verbal jousting at halftime, sources said, but nothing became physical again.
Gobert tweeted an apology to the team, fans and Anderson after the game, saying Anderson "is someone that i truly love and respect as a teammate."
Emotions got the best of me today. I should not have reacted the way i did regardless of what was said. I wanna apologize to the fans, the organisation and particularly to Kyle, who is someone that i truly love and respect as a teammate.— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) April 10, 2023
Gobert hurt his back in a victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday and nearly didn't play Sunday, sources said. He said he was sore and that he believed he was fighting through the discomfort and referred to the limitations on his back when arguing with Anderson, sources told ESPN's Zach Lowe on Sunday night.
Anderson said everything was "all in a competitive nature" when asked about the altercation after the contest.
"Tempers flare, you're in the middle of a game, a game we all want to win, a huge one, it is what it is," Anderson said. "You know, s--- happens. It's not the first time something like that has happened."
Anderson, who subbed in for Gobert after the incident at the 4:23 mark of the second quarter and started for Gobert in the second half, said it's something the two can get over.
"We'll move forward," Anderson said. "We want to win games. It is what it is. We'll keep it in house. I mean, it ain't the first time someone has swung on me. ... I think our tempers just flared. That's all. It is what it is. We'll speak about it and move on. We're grown men."
Mike Conley, who was Gobert's teammate with the Utah Jazz from 2019 to 2022 and again in Minnesota after he was traded to the Timberwolves at the deadline, called it one of the "grittier wins" that anybody on the team will be a part of.
"We could easily have splintered," Conley said. "Whether it was Kyle and Rudy or hearing the news about Jaden, it's just like one hit after another. But it just brought more out of us."
Conley added that Gobert had already sent a text message to the team's group chat apologizing for the incident.
"It's an emotional game," Conley said. "You're talking about two guys in Kyle and Rudy, two of the biggest competitors you'll meet, and stuff happens, honestly. Rudy will tell you firsthand he lost control and he'll apologize for it. ... But that happens. We've got to be men. We've got to be mature, especially late in the season like this. We can't let our emotions get the best of it. He knows better than that.
"Kyle challenged everybody. We know how that works. We have to be able to accept it and move forward."
The Timberwolves trailed 48-36 when Gobert exited the game, and the team did gain a better focus after the incident, Conley said. Minnesota trailed until the fourth quarter and took their first lead on the first bucket of the final period when Karl-Anthony Towns drained a 3-pointer.
Towns finished with 30 points, and Anthony Edwards had 26 points and 13 rebounds to go along with 4 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks.
"I'm super proud of my teammates, man," Edwards said. "We went down like 14 in the third at one point, and we fought all the way back in that same quarter. Then KAT comes out and puts us on top in the fourth. That's super big, man."
While the Timberwolves were able to advance to give themselves two chances to make the playoffs during the play-in tournament, they will have to do so without McDaniels.
"Certainly, immaturity has been one of our issues all season," Wolves coach Chris Finch said. "We've been immature at the wrong times. Probably points to why we're 3-9 or 3-10 against some of the teams that we should be better against.
"But those days are gone. We got to focus now on what we got and what we're getting moving forward. I guess we play the Lakers, so we got to head out there."
McDaniels' injury represents a huge loss for the Wolves as they head into a play-in matchup versus LeBron James and the Lakers. McDaniels was one of six players to defend 2022-23 All-Stars at least 1,000 times this season, according to ESPN's Stats & Information research.
The Wolves are already without backup center Naz Reid -- who had been having his most productive NBA season -- with a fractured wrist that he suffered March 29.
"We're going to have more adversity to deal with," Towns said. "We always have to earn it. So we'll just have to go out there and earn it."
The winner of the Wolves' play-in game against the Lakers will face the No. 2 seed Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. The loser will play the winner of the second play-in matchup between the Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder for the right to play the No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets.