The Minnesota Timberwolves entered this game coming off one of their biggest all-around team wins of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Missing Anthony Edwards, along with another game without Jaden McDaniels, more shakeups to the lineup were necessary. After a series of impressive and impactful performances, Troy Brown Jr. slid into Edwards’ spot alongside the starters.
With the Utah Jazz missing offensive engines Jordan Clarkson and Lauri Markkanen, this had all the makings for a Wolves blowout. In the absence of Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns stepped up with a hot offensive start. Before he picked up two offensive fouls, Towns dropped seven points with two effortless post-ups against John Collins and one of his patented top of the key pick-and-pop threes.
Despite Towns’ quick start, the rest of the starters struggled to find their footing. Cold shooting starts and sloppy rotations allowed the Jazz to start finding quality looks away from the ball and build up a seven-point lead in the first quarter. As the quarter progressed, though, the Wolves slowly chipped away at that lead. Naz Reid provided energy and points in transition while Gobert racked up a few blocks with his weak side rim protection.
BIG JELLY COMING THRU. pic.twitter.com/AbIfALv6yW— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 1, 2023
The Wolves entered the second quarter with a three-point deficit after scoring only 20 points in the first. Their offensive woes continued as they accumulated only three points in the first four minutes of the second quarter. Almost exclusively settling for jumpers, the Timberwolves lacked the drive-and-kick game that has been a major factor of their offensive success this season. This complacent shot selection didn’t make the Jazz work on defense while also allowing them to push in transition, exploit early offense mismatches, and build up a 12-point lead.
With a depleted rotation, someone was bound to be elevated in role. That opportunity fell to Daishen Nix who entered nearly midway through the second quarter. Nix’s role has been minimal at best as he’s recorded just over nine minutes all season.
The story of the first half, though, was Towns. He was the only one consistently finding his shot in the half-court. Despite the two early fouls, Towns did a terrific job of not picking up another one for the rest of the half while also dropping 20 points on 7-12 shooting, grabbing five rebounds, a block, and a steal. Towns consistently got whatever he wanted in the half-court. Collins couldn’t handle him in the post, The outside shot was falling regularly, and he went 4-5 from the line. All around, it’s tough to imagine a much more effective half from Towns.
While Towns did a good job of impacting the defense, he wasn’t the only one. The Timberwolves forced nine first half turnovers and racked up 10 points in transition. Unfortunately, the rebounding struggles continued in the first half as the Jazz out rebounded the Timberwolves 32 to 24 while scavenging seven second chance points compared to just three for the Timberwolves.
As the second half kicked off, it was the Timberwolves’ “role players” who were the catalysts for them jumping out to a 16-point lead, primarily Alexander-Walker. Alexander-Walker was a menace on defense. His pestering energy drew illegal screens, forced bad misses, and generated a myriad of turnovers. From there, Alexander-Walker feasted in transition with dunks, assists, and energy that dragged defenders out of position that created opportunities for teammates. Alexander-Walker’s energy was infectious as the entire defensive effort took a step up generating 16 turnovers and an 18-point lead through three quarters.
OH STOP THAT, NICKEIL. pic.twitter.com/BTKVRb5D6W— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) December 1, 2023
As the fourth quarter rounded into shape, it was more of the same from the third. The Timberwolves frequently got out in transition, forced a bevy of turnovers, and knocked down their shots. The Jazz showed some fight as they occasionally cut the lead down to the lower teens, but at the end of the day, the Timberwolves out worked and out executed the Jazz en route to a 101-90 win.
Karl-Anthony Towns Steps Up
Without Edwards, someone was going to need to step up in a big way on offense for the Timberwolves. Thankfully they have one of the most versatile scoring centers in the league. Towns was terrific from start to finish. When the offense got bogged down in the first half, Towns was the reliable safety net. He attacked closeouts, dominated the post, and let the outside shot fly confidently.
After two early offensive fouls, it wouldn’t have been shocking if Towns maintained his foul trouble and imploded. Instead, he didn’t pick up another foul until 4:42 remaining in the fourth quarter while still playing competitive defense and grabbing nine rebounds.
Along with his 32 points, Towns also accumulated five assists and 11 rebounds. He moved the ball and consistently made the right decision. On a night where the offense easily could’ve disappeared, Towns ensured that he was there to carry the load.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker Steals the Show
Alexander-Walker has been a crucial role player for the Timberwolves all season, but tonight was different. After one of his worst performances in a Wolves jersey against the Thunder, Alexander-Walker just had one of his best.
The energy and intangibles of Alexander-Walker’s game were on full display, as they almost always are. He was slithering over screens, hounding ball-handlers, and providing much needed energy to the offense. While these aspects of Alexander-Walker’s game are readily on display, tonight they morphed into a gaudy stat line.
Finishing with 20 points, seven assists, five rebounds, five steals, and two blocks, Alexander-Walker was the difference maker. He set the tone in the second half and was the main reason the Wolves grew a big lead. Without Alexander-Walker, this game very easily could’ve looked a lot different.
Turning Defense Into Offense
The Timberwolves turning in another outstanding defensive performance isn’t anything new this season. What was different, though, was how frequently they immediately turned those stellar defensive possessions into points going the other way.
The Timberwolves have been one of the most efficient transition scoring teams in the league, ranking fifth in points per possession per Cleaning the Glass, but they only rank 16th in transition frequency. Tonight, the Timberwolves generated 25 points in transition compared to just five from the Jazz. The Timberwolves’ half-court offense has been inconsistent all season, and it could’ve gotten ugly with no Edwards who is one of their few shot creators. Instead, they used their stellar defensive performance to not only limit the Jazz but to create easy offense for themselves.