The Minnesota Timberwolves rebounded from a 21-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last Friday to down the new look Dallas Mavericks 124-121.
The addition of Mike Conley Jr. paid dividends, as the Wolves were able to increase an early lead and hold onto it by the skin of their teeth down the stretch. Anthony Edwards left no doubt in NBA fans’ minds about his All-Star selection with a defining 32 points on 12-22 shooting.
Everyone on the Timberwolves put their brick in to earn the victory, and the most efficient bricklayer was Rudy Gobert, who played up to his potential with 21 points and 14 rebounds on a perfect 9-9 shooting from the field.
The Mavericks got off to a rather lethargic start. A personal 13-0 run by Christian Wood in the second quarter kept Dallas’ hopes alive before a historic fourth quarter by Kyrie Irving and company almost spoiled the night for the Chris Finch-led ball club. Irving finished with 36 points and Luka Dončić complemented him with 33 points and 12 rebounds of his own in a double-double effort.
Minnesota won the rebounding battle 39-33, out-assisted Dallas 28-21, got the edge with 64 points in the paint to their 54, and shot their fifth-best field goal percentage (57.8 percent) of the season.
There were many layers to this matchup. Let’s peel them back to extract all takeaways from what transpired Monday night.
Setting the Tone Early
Discernibly, the Wolves offense looked much faster out of the gates. Conley Jr. committed two errant passes that led to turnovers within the first six minutes of regulation, but bounced back swiftly. He made quick decisions with the basketball and reinvigorated years worth of chemistry with Gobert in the pick-and-roll.
The way the ball moved around the arc in the half court was commendable, and led to a free flowing offense. This contributed to 33 first quarter points.
On the other side of the ball, Minnesota clearly executed off of film analysis, as they were up on game to the Mavericks’ offensive scheme. The Mavs started out with Green manning the top of the key with Irving and Doncic on opposite wings, converging off of the dribble hand-off to be dynamic with the rock.
They showed Luka two defenders — the primary ball handler and the defender in the screen-and-roll — forcing him to cough the ball up to Dwight Powell more often than not.
Dallas’ M-O is usually to run that option offense, and have Dončić or the big get into the lane and swing the ball to the weak side for threes or the dismantling of opposing defenses. The Wolves would not let themselves fall victim to such a scheme. Irving was taking many Kobe Bryant-esque shots early, which played a part in his four-point start.
Not out of the Woods Just Yet
Wood played his role to a T. He came in as the second quarter progressed and offset the time that either Dončić or Irving were on the bench with his own catered 13-0 run from the 10:17 mark to 6:52 remaining.
Counteracting his heroics, Conley continued to feed Gobert, and the Wolves as a team got up shots earlier in the shot clock with more coordination as opposed to much of their games leading up to this point.
The Mavericks went to a 2-3 zone inside of five minutes to go. This did not slow down Edwards, who was scoring from everywhere. It is common knowledge by now that when Edwards goes downhill, there’s little any defense can do to stop him.
Minnesota’s offense was centered around feeding Edwards the ball at the top of the key without a screen present, clearing his teammates out to the perimeter, and allowing him to beat his man off of the dribble to score or draw a foul. Conley made a corner 3 while moving without the ball, signifying the impact he can have when he’s not facilitating the offense.
At the half, the Wolves led 65-54.
This is the Rudy We’ve Been Waiting For
Gobert played like the 7-foot-1 monster he always out to be playing like. He came out like a man on a mission, and looked to score the basketball. Within the first 24 minutes of play, he had a post hook shot inside of 10 feet that resulted in an and-one. He added to this with two emphatic dunks off of the skip pass after setting screens, and even put on for his French citizenship with a silky-smooth euro-step layup.
He was active on the offensive glass, getting his hand on a great many missed shots and corralling three on the game.
Encouragingly enough, the spacing looked rather nice throughout the contest. Gobert did not appear to hamper the offense, played his role, and contributed to a team effort that secured the win. Timberwolves fans should be very pleased not only with Gobert’s assertiveness, but his connection with Conley and its seemingly and presumptuous upgrade over that with recently departed point guard D’Angelo Russell.
Next Man Up
As previously mentioned, every Wolves player that checked into the game made use of their minutes. In the first quarter, Jaden McDaniels made his presence felt with strong inside play. Naz Reid gave us more of the same of his reliable play, including a reaction-inducing crossover on Gobert which led to a finesse layup over Josh Green plus the harm.
The second half accentuated the role players even more. Jaylen Nowell had a productive third quarter. Kyle Anderson stood out down the stretch. The Wolves ran an inside out offense where they’d look to get Anderson the rock on the right block. He’d exploit his matchup or the switch with post hooks, even getting to the line on occasion.
He could be heard down the stretch of the fourth quarter riling up his teammates to rebound and hustle harder after Irving raked in a couple of offensive rebounds which led to easy deuces. His poise in the midst of a frenzied Dallas run, and a key steal on Dončić inside of a minute and a half to play were paramount in Minnesota squeezing out the win.
The Danger of the Mavericks
Dallas has had most of their ducks in a row in the Luka Dončić era. They’ve excelled from the 3-point line, metamorphosing into perhaps the most lethal team from outside. They’ve relied on a superstar talent whose high usage rate has directly contributed to making his teammates better. They’ve had balance with perimeter defenders and role players who could make timely shots.
However, they’ve been devoid of a talent who could give them another element of surprise on offense, particularly in the midrange, and provide a secondary scorer who can come through in the clutch. Wood checks the former of those boxes, but Irving satisfies both, and this game should put the entire Western Conference on red alert as to the potency of this Mavericks offense.
Irving scored 26 points in the fourth on 11/12 shooting, including 8/8 on 2s. That marked the third-most points in a quarter for a Maverick in franchise history, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki (29) and Dončić (28). He began by pushing the ball with urgency, similar to the Nuggets a couple of games ago, and scored from everywhere. He found much success stopping off a dime at the top of the key and pulling up from 17 feet at the elbow. Down the stretch, he channeled his former Cleveland days with clutch shot after clutch shot, slowly chipping away at what was once an ice block, into an ice cube.
The Last Moments of the Game
Irving was not alone in his Herculean effort. Frank Nitilikina made a huge 3-point basket with under 2:20 to go. Dončić made a patented step-back 3 before that to kick off clutch time. In the end, Edwards and the rest of the Wolves scored when needed to hang on and earn a vaunted win.
Watching Ant (21) and Jaden (22) here is an out of body experiencepic.twitter.com/fSZXZHQFbU— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) February 14, 2023
Minnesota will look to improve upon a 9-29 night from distance as they face the Washington Wizards back at Target Center on Thursday, Feb. 16 in Conley’s first game at home. Washington owns the season series thus far, as they hung 142 points on the Wolves on Nov. 28 in a 15-point win, the same night Karl-Anthony Towns went down with his calf strain.
The Timberwolves have the size to deal with a long Wizards’ front court consisting of Kristaps Porzingis, Daniel Gafford and Kyle Kuzma — all standing over 6-foot-9. Kuzma’s availability is up in the air as he’s nursing an ankle injury. In the event that he takes the floor, Minnesota will have their hands full with Porzingis, Kuzma and Bradley Beal all averaging 20-plus points per game this year.