Following two rough losses at home over the weekend Minnesota visited an 8-4 Utah Jazz team tonight known for its staunch defense, led by back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert.
Gobert of course played a big role in mucking up Minnesota’s offense in this one. His defensive presence alone is a big factor in altering the way teams scheme against the Jazz, and that was certainly the case tonight in the way Wolves tried to operate on that end of the floor. Minnesota botched quite a few point-blank baskets early on because they were anticipating Gobert’s looming defensive presence.
The Jazz led for much of the first quarter, but Gorgui Dieng forced back-to-back turnovers paired with a couple buckets to help the Wolves take the lead going into the second quarter. The pick-and-roll game between him and Jeff Teague was really jiving early in this one, which helped give Minnesota a little momentum early on when it looked like it could end up being a long night.
Teague looked very aggressive tonight, driving to the basket with purpose and shooting with out hesitation. But the Wolves’ primary strategy was clearly to to get Karl-Anthony Towns involved early, which meant running plays to get him open looks on the perimeter. And man, he set up shop all night at the top of the key, hitting 7-15 from downtown and finishing with 29/13/5.
It’s obvious when watching the Jazz that they have an elite defensive scheme (before tonight they were ranked second in the NBA in defensive rating at 100.3), but the Wolves were pretty disruptive in their own right on defense tonight. They were really aggressive in their closeouts on the perimeter and in their anticipation in the passing lanes. They defended the pick-and-roll surprisingly well, too, disrupting the Gobert-Mike Conley duo that can be deadly when it goes unchecked. Defending the pick-and-pop was a different story, though. The Wolves consistently went under screens on players like Joe Ingels and Bojan Bogdanović, which resulted in what were essentially wide-open threes. But despite the Jazz shooting 53 percent from three in the first half, Minnesota went into the locker room with a three-point lead thanks to their favorable turnover differential.
Donovan Mitchell had a pretty rough night by his standards (17 points on 5-24 shooting), but like Gobert he found other ways to be effective. He drew Treveon Graham into fouling him three different times on the perimeter, and that’s just off the top of my head. The Wolves’ wings did their part in containing him, but that didn’t stop him from opening up some other options for Utah.
Towns left the game with four minutes left in the third quarter after getting called for his fourth foul by kicking his feet out on a three-point attempt, which led to a motley crew of Wolves players sharing the floor for an extended stretch of crunch-time minutes. With no true scorer on the floor, the Wolves somehow managed to keep things close, in part thanks to a big game from Rookie Kelan Martin who played like a veteran, finishing with 14 points on 6-7 shooting and six rebounds.
When KAT returned in the fourth, this thing was as good as over as he continued to go unconscious from beyond the arc, hitting consecutive threes, one of which was as deep as 25 feet.
Utah seemed panicked to close this one out, rushing down the court and tossing up frantic shots when there was still plenty of time to catch up. They looked completely flustered and discombobulated, which I think maybe says more about them as a team than it does about what the Wolves did to cause it. In any case, Minnesota came out with a crucial win after dropping back-to-back games at home over the weekend. Now back to Target Center for the rematch on Wednesday.