Today marked an important day in Timberwolves history. I know what you’re all thinking and no, it wasn’t Ricky Rubio’s return to Utah. It was the return of our favorite UndraftedFreeAgent, Jordan McLaughlin, to the active roster. This reason alone is why the Utah Jazz allowed 1,500 people into thecheapseats at Vivint Arena (They were actually in the lower bowl). Spoiler alert: JMac would remain in street clothes all game.
Instead, the live crowd was treated to a showcase by a pair of Wolves guards. D’Angelo Russell, fresh with negative COVID-19 test results, was back in the starting lineup and Mr. Ice-In-His-Veins fired Icebolts into the hearts of the Jazz defense, pouring in 7 of the first 9 points for the Timberwolves. The Wolves still trailed and similar to the previous game, it looked like it would be a long night for the Wolves as Rudy Gobert opened the game with 2 wide open uncontested dunks.
However, still on the timeline of game 1, as soon as Anthony Edwards (Known as Goose moving forward, S/O jakesgraphs) checked into the game, he was a firecracker. He would score 9 points by knocking in contested three pointers with confidence and bulldozing his way into the lane as if the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year wasn’t there. Goose also competed on defense, a theme that is development, and help the Wolves build a 4-point lead heading into second period.
A1 SINCE DAY ONE pic.twitter.com/yuc17HovcW— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 27, 2020
Sadly for me, the 2nd quarter was filled with an internet connection that cut in and out (You’d think in 2020, where we’re 100% virtual, that wouldn’t still be a problem). However I was able to catch enough of it to see the Wolves knocking in treys. It seemed like every time my WiFi reconnected, it’d
d-load another made 3. The 11/20 shooting from beyond the arc along, with the 17 points scored off 12 Jazz turnovers, helped Minnesota build a 15-point lead going in to the half.
that's some beautiful ball movement pic.twitter.com/XBKUib10VB— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 27, 2020
go off then, DLo pic.twitter.com/bywngnehnP— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 27, 2020
The highlight of the quarter was certainly a fastbreak led by Goose where he threaded a beautiful bounce pass around a defender to Russell. *chef’s kiss*
Just like there were some howls (3s and Ant), there were growls (S/O Jake Paynting). The Wolves guards were completely inept at handling Utah’s ball screens as the Jazz got wide open 3s or were encouraged to sleepwalk into the lane. The rebounding was also horrendous, as the Wolves were getting hammered constantly as Jake Layman (0) and Juancho Hernangomez (1) continued to provide no resistance. The loudest growl of the quarter was when Naz Reid took an awkward spill on the court, landing on his left arm/shoulder area. He was curled up on the ground writhing in pain loudly as Gregg Farnam escorted him to the locker room. Luckily, Hollywood Naz would end up being okay. From about 800 miles away and through the internet, I’d speculate it was a shoulder that popped out that needed to be put back in (SMUT). Either way, it was a scary reminder of just how quickly things could potentially go wrong with an injury.
By the way, all OK with Naz Reid apparently as he's back in there now.— Chris Hine (@ChristopherHine) December 27, 2020
The second half would open with a pivotal play. After being sent to the bench with 3 fouls, Utah decided to run a high post iso for Gobert on Towns (???). As the Frenchmen ventured deeper into the paint, Towns perfectly anticipated a counter move and drew a foul. It was going to be one of these centers’ 4th foul. The result? Rudy Gobert headed to the bench. This noticeably changed the pace of the game, but not perhaps how you’d expect. The Wolves would understandably begin attacking the rim more as evidenced by this Goose post-up on Conley. Seriously. Goose “big brothered” a vet that was 14 years his elder.
Conversely, without Gobert clogging up the lane, Conley and Donovan Mitchell roamed into the paint somehow even more easily than they did in the first half. They would challenge the Wolves defense with a 10-2 run to end the third period, cutting a 17-point lead to just 9 heading into the 4th.
The final period would be a wild one.
The Jazz, who much preferred life on offense without Gobert on the floor, continued to pummel the Wolves in the paint. Mitchell channeled his pre-2020 James Harden by blowing by any defender in his path. Credit the Jazz defense as the Wolves would have trouble finding a rhythm on offense. There would be some highlights like this reverse by Tricky Rubio, but he still looked extremely rusty, marred by uncharacteristic poor decisions.
Tricky Ricky strikes again pic.twitter.com/gcNIaNcU4P— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 27, 2020
Just as it looked like Jordan Clarkson and Mitchell were going to finish the dismantling of the Wolves lead with a barrage of 3s, another big play stopped their momentum. Off a missed Towns 3-point attempt, Okogie ended up with the ball in his hands and took the O-Train to the rim, smashing the orange ball through the nylon net with a primal scream, forcing the Jazz to do nothing but to call a timeout to sulk in embarrassment.
However the scariest moment of the game occurred. Remember how I mentioned just how quickly things can change with an injury? Well, Towns attempted to end Gobert, who he has a unspoken all-NBA beef with, on a dunk attempt. He would lose the ball on his way up and come crashing down with all his went on his left wrist. You know, the one which he just underwent surgery for. Just like Naz, he would curl up on the court while holding his wrist in clear pain. The Wolves would have to call a timeout to help him straight to the locker room.
KAT landed very hard and tried to brace his fall, walked off and headed to the locker room pic.twitter.com/uQ7jQ5A8ph— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) December 27, 2020
Understandably so, the Wolves confidence in walking out with a win wavered. Reid would fill in admirably for Towns while Russell would sink a barrage of mid-rangers (Wiggins alert!) to keep them afloat. Slowly but surely, the Jazz would creep closer and closer though, whittling the lead down to 4 points after a pair of Mike Conley Jr. free throws. However, as my main man Gandalf once said, “Look to my coming in crunch time with 57.7 seconds on the clock, look to the scorers table”
Towns checking back into the game, but Mitchell is heating up— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) December 27, 2020
Russell, who had scored 6 points while Towns was out, would miss a floater. Towns would sell out to offensive rebound that attempt, but would completely missing the carom. He reached out to deflect the ball out of bounds with his re-injured left wrist, but upon a replay, it appeared that the ball may have glanced off Gobert’s hand after Towns touched it. The call on the floor was Wolves ball. The refs conferred and reversed the call on the floor to Jazz ball. Then they went to review and ONCE AGAIN overturned the new call on the floor, going back to Wolves ball. The result?
A strong Malik Beasley take to push the lead back to 6 with 33.7 remaining.
CLUTCH BUCKET BEAS pic.twitter.com/X2ihlkUi3C— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 27, 2020
There would still be some late game antics by the Jazz to try and steal the game away. With 4.2 seconds remaining just down 3 after Russell split a pair of free throws, the Jazz would have a final shot to send the game to overtime. *In Morpheus voice* “What if I told you the Wolves would win with defense?”
Huge 5 second call forced by the Wolves here pic.twitter.com/88BfKNT4s4— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) December 27, 2020
Aaaaand that would do it. The Wolves steal one on the road against a legit playoff team in the West. It’s hard not to get excited about this win. There were arguably more positive takeaways than there were nagging questions. Either way, the road to 72-0 seems clear!
- How I got through this entire recap without mentioning Jarrett Culver is beyond me. He was once against a solid +9 and totally looked the part. Sure, he bricked a free throw (1/2 on the game), but this man went 3/3 from beyond. THIS MAN IS SHOOTING 75% 3P AND 83% FT!!!
- This whole Jake Layman/Juancho Hernangomez thing is not going to work. Is 2 games too early to call it? I don’t think so. It was evident today that their presence was not missed whatsoever. In the 2nd half, Layman played less than 3 minutes while Hernangomez never saw a single minute. Our rebounding problems can be tied directly to them.
- Man... Ant Man, Goose, Future MVP, whatever name you want to call him, is LEGIT. It was entirely realistic that he deserved the closing minutes of this game. This was his best (statistical) offensive game of this young career scoring 18 points on 12 shots (2/3 from 3). He plays solid defense with great effort. The rate he’s going at, he’s going to drop a 50-point game by midseason.
- I want to shoutout Malik Beasley’s presence on the court. He’s noticeably crashing the glass hard (6 tonight) and plays with an intensity that is rivaled by only Josh Okogie on this team. It’s much needed and a welcome sight. He played a team-high 39 minutes.
- Rubio got assist number 3,000 in a Timberwolves uniform on the final Beasley layup. He now trails Kevin Garnett by 1216 dimes.
- Game ball has to go to Karl-Anthony Towns once again. He posted a pedestrian 16/12/3/1/4 (Ha) line, but really played solid backline defense considering the the turnstile that was the backcourt. He also demonstrated so much leadership by putting his health on the line to get us to the finish line. If it were not for him coming back on (I say this again) a recently repaired left wrist and making a game altering play with it, I highly doubt we would’ve gotten the victory. So so so so so so so much respect.
- Spiderman was bested by his Avenger teammate Ant Man. Sorry. I’m not a fan of the MCU stuff, but I had to say it. I’m much more of a LOTR head. Not so much Matrix either.