D'Angelo Russell's second full season with the Timberwolves has been erratic, and that just seems to be the point guard's style. There's still no doubt of his importance to the team, not in the mind of coach Chris Finch.

Asked in the lead-up to Tuesday night's play-in game at Target Center what Russell has brought to this winning season, Finch said:

"He has been a big factor because of his ability to make tough shots in close games.''

Finch had talked a few minutes earlier of the postseason — playoffs and now play-ins — being the time of year when making tough shots decides games.

And on Tuesday, when the Timberwolves seemed as if they would be overwhelmed by the hard-nosed Los Angeles Clippers in the first half, with Karl-Anthony Towns in foul trouble and without a field goal, it was Russell who went on a run and allowed his team to push ahead 53-51.

And in the fourth quarter, after the Clippers' Paul George had exploded with 17 points in the third, and with Towns now fouled out, it was Russell who hit field goals to give the Wolves an unlikely lead, and then another to push the lead in the closing minute.

And in the end, with Russell co-starring with young Anthony Edwards, the Wolves escaped with a 109-104 victory which most of the night seemed an unlikely occurrence.

It was back on the first Sunday of February, when the Wolves defeated lowly Detroit 118-105, that Russell was asked postgame about the impact of Patrick Beverley, his veteran partner in the backcourt.

As expected, Russell paid tribute to Beverley, although that was not the headline in his response. That prize was won by Russell's reference to the Timberwolves' fans being "quiet'' of the posterior nature.

"I think it's good to have somebody like [Beverley]," Russell said. "It kind of wakes people up."

Normally, insulting the customers would lead to much criticism, but this is the NBA, with an edgier audience that's more likely to smile at such a remark and take it as a challenge.

Which is what happened with Wolves crowds. Russell dinged 'em and they became rowdier.

It also helped that the Wolves won 15 of their next 20 to put aside any doubt they would be participating in the NBA's postseason for the second time in 18 years.

And it was only this franchise's dreadful fortune — that in a season in which the Wolves went 46-36 to secure seventh place in the Western Conference, this would be the first full season since 1984 that would not guarantee official standing as a "playoff" team.

The NBA tried out the ridiculous play-in tournaments for finishers seven-through-10 in 2021 in both conferences after the second COVID season, drew some TV viewers and has now made those play-ins a fixture to kick off the postseason.

Winning meant the Wolves advance to play No. 2-seeded Memphis in a series starting Saturday. Losing would have meant another chance to reach the playoffs on Friday and then a very treacherous fate in a series against No. 1 seed Phoenix starting Sunday.

Thus, 11 weeks later, the onus on Tuesday had moved from the fans to get louder to Russell to bring his A-game and pay a serious dividend on a contract paying him $30 million salary for this season.

And he did exactly that, scoring 29 points to go with Edwards' 30, in this victory.

Bring on Memphis. And bring on more of this D-Lo.

Russell came to the Wolves in a trade with Golden State on Feb. 7, 2019. Andrew Wiggins went to the Warriors. Wiggins was a flatliner as a personality and had become so as a player, causing the Minnesota media and fans to congratulate basketball boss Gersson Rosas for getting rid of him.

The trade has become more debatable. Wiggins has improved with that Warriors cast (even erroneously starting the All-Star Game this season), while Russell's inconsistency was evident in Minnesota.

This is a very old-school analysis: The Timberwolves were 27-11 when Russell shot 40%. They were 12-15 when he's under 40%. They are also 7-10 when he doesn't play.

Personally, I can't remember changing my view on a Wolves player as often as has been the case with Russell in 2021-22. First quarter of the season: Yuck. Middle half of the season: He's better than I thought. Last quarter of season: You never know with D-Lo.

He proved that last point again on Tuesday, in the best possible way. With the superstar KAT, contributing little, he turned into a co-star and sent the Timberwolves officially into the playoffs.