The Minnesota Timberwolves earned a pivotal 111-102 win against the New Orleans Pelicans on the road on Wednesday night.
All five Minnesota starters scored in double figures, led by 37 points from Anthony Edwards and a highly impactful 19 points from D’Angelo Russell. Rudy Gobert notched double-double No. 18 of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds on 7-12 shooting from the floor. Kyle Anderson and Jaden McDaniels each contributed 10 points in the winning affair as instrumental catalysts in capturing and sustaining a healthy lead.
Despite trailing by as many as 12 points, Minnesota held New Orleans to a paltry 31.6% shooting from 3-point range. The Timberwolves parlayed their onus on limiting the long ball with an aggressive transition defense that only conceded four fast break points.
Several aspects of Minnesota’s offense and defense led to their victory against New Orleans. Let’s parse last night’s game based off of pervasive trends and themes.
A Rare Occurrence
In the National Basketball Association, nearly all players are dexterous in using both of their hands. When watching the first half of regulation, the Pelicans very rarely shot from the left side of the floor save the final three minutes before the break.
It could be counted on one hand. One watching closely would notice that the Pelicans were habitual in driving from the right wing into the center of the paint, drawing the defense and kicking out to the right weak side for 3-pointers. The rare attempts from the left side of the floor were either sent back by Naz Reid — who had two blocks off of drives from that area — or food for the rim. This must not have been picked up by Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch, for their man defense did not shade the Pelicans to the left side of the floor as the game wore on.
The Dunker Spot
Both teams fancied dumping off passes to players in the dunker spot. The game broke open with a picture-perfect sequence where the ball was lobbed in to Gobert who commanded the rotation of the help defender, and fed Kyle Anderson for a slow-mo deuce. Willy Hernangomez was the recipient of two attempts from the dunker spot that either resulted in points from the field or at the line. Trey Murphy III and Larry Nance Jr. got in on the action with easy two’s.
The Scouting Report Brought to Life
Through three quarters, Minnesota held Herbert Jones, Murphy III and Brandon Ingram to a combined 0-14 from the 3-point line. How this was achieved ranged. The Wolves dared Jones to shoot. In the first half, they gave him the corner 3 ball. In the third quarter, they let him run rampant from the wing. After around seven minutes to go in the quarter, he got the memo and ceased from shooting his team out of the game. As for Murphy III, disciplined defense is what led to one of the NBA’s best deadeye shooters missing the mark. In pertinence to Ingram, much of his woes could be justifiably attributed to rust — having missed the better part of 33 games. But the Wolves were up in his grill and made life difficult for the former all-star down to the closing seconds of play.
Two Words: Kyle Anderson
The Timberwolves led 63-61 with 8:23 to go in the third quarter. Kyle Anderson led his own 10-0 run in under two minutes. He assisted on three Gobert dunks and dialed in two runners from seven feet and inward. Had it not been for his smart play, correct reads and sound decision making, we could’ve been talking about an entirely different final outcome. That run extended the Wolves’ lead from two to 12, and out of the timeout, his teammates were able to push the envelope and widen the gap by as much as 17 points. This gave Minnesota enough of a lead to cleave on to the rest of the way.
Once clutch time arrived, the Wolves handled business. The Pelicans gave the Wolves a fright as three straight blown possessions led to three straight scoring opportunities for CJ McCollum. However, Minnesota was able to stomp out those embers before they became a forest fire with two big buckets from McDaniels — a tough pull up jumper from 17 and a 3-point dagger from Gobert to turn a four point lead into seven with 1:24 to go. That was the biggest shot of the night and killed any hopes that New Orleans had to pull off a comeback victory.
Conclusion: Anthony Edwards Stole the Show
Edwards launched a varied attack against Pelicans head coach Willie Green and his troops. He found much success driving into the lane and slicing through the defense. When Valanciunas came out of the game and was replaced by Hernangomez, the latter would roam around the midrange on defense. Multitasking with his primary defensive assignment on Gobert and Reid, he would serve as a help defender that wouldn’t overcommit and trap ball handlers per se, but rather sit a couple of feet back to dissuade the ball handler from making a beeline to the rim. Most of the time that ball handler was Edwards. But once he began to thrive in the halfcourt set, he transferred that energy into finishing in transition. He complemented this with 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc, offering a mixed bag of goods in that department. This was one of Edwards’ best performances of the season.
By the Way: Russell Added Value
Take it as you may. Russell added value to the team win. Russell also added value to his trade stock. One thing that may have been encouraging for Wolves fans was that D’Lo did not take the air out of the ball. He was not reluctant in catching and shooting from 3-point land. He drove with a purpose and showcased his runners and floaters. He made timely buckets and played efficiently. Whether this is a telltale sign of things to come for the Timberwolves or another team, Russell showed why he must still be considered a valuable point guard in the NBA — in the right environment that is.
The Timberwolves are back at .500 with a 25-25 record. The Memphis Grizzlies will venture to Target Center on Friday night at 6:30 PM CT to kick a six-game home stand in downtown Minneapolis. The Wolves will then move on to face the resurgent Sacramento Kings on the second leg of a back-to-back games on Saturday night before upcoming battles the defending champion Golden State Warriors, precocious Orlando Magic and conference-leading Denver Nuggets.
These next six games will be the biggest test for the Timberwolves as NBA All-Star Weekend approaches. Can the Wolves go .500 or better in that span? They will be up against the quite literally the most elite competition in their conference. How they perform can either springboard them into momentum leading up to Karl-Anthony Towns’ return, or plummet them out of play-in seeding.