The Minnesota Timberwolves secured a crucial 136-115 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on the road last night, in a balanced performance that featured six Wolves players scoring in double figures. An early 13-12 lead for the Hawks was the last time they’d see a lead all game, as the Timberwolves hung 40 on Trae Young and company in the first quarter and never looked back.
Anthony Edwards continued his All-Star level of play behind a team-high 32 points on 12-25 shooting from the field, along with eight rebounds and five assists. Offering much needed assistance was Jaden McDaniels, who shined with 19 points and two blocks on 8-10 shooting from the floor.
Minnesota played with urgency, matching the gravity that the tight regular season playoff race ought to breed. The same cannot be said for Atlanta.
Trae Young played great, scoring a game-high 41 points — his third 40-plus point game of the season — on a pristine 15-25 shooting from the floor and a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. Despite four other Hawks reaching double figures, Young did not receive enough help from whistle to whistle until the game was virtually out of reach down the stretch.
Here are the major takeaways from last night’s action:
A Playoff Caliber Offense
Both teams came out of the gates hot. The difference was, Minnesota never cooled off. They set the tone with an aforementioned 40-point first quarter. How they got those 40 points is what matters most.
McDaniels had 10 of his 19 points, as well as 10 of the Timberwolves’ first 17 points prior to the five minute mark in the first. All 10 points came off of layups and dunks. What started out as exploiting smaller or weaker matchups and cutting to the basket for lead passes, soon turned into Timberwolves’ head coach Chris Finch actively getting him the ball at the elbow and allowing him to work. McDaniels greased the wheels, allowing his teammates to floor the gas.
Speaking of exploiting matchups and active off-ball movement, the Wolves did not resort to isolation basketball for much of the night. Their incessant hustle off of turnovers — which Atlanta committed 16 of — led to a 24-6 win in fast break points. Yes, the Hawks coughed up many unforced giveaways to the Wolves, but conversion on the other end was executed to perfection.
On top of this, against a conventional defense that did not pit bigger defenders against any one player or shake things up with a zone, Minnesota was able to do three things with grace: time lead passes to Rudy Gobert and Luka Garza, move the ball, and take smart shots.
It would take a close watch of a rerun of last night’s action to spot an ill-advised shot taken by Minnesota. On top of this, Gobert and Garza were masterful at using their off forearm to pin defenders who fronted, and finish with ease or difficulty around the rim. Lastly, the Wolves won the assists battle 39-17, which speaks for itself.
The Defense Was Not as Good as the Stat Sheet Implies
It would be great to rave about a Minnesota defense that matched its offense in intensity and cohesiveness, but that was not the case. As previously noted, many of the Hawks’ turnovers were their own faults. Also, their inability to hit an outside shot — going 4-22 at an 18.2 percent clip — was not because the Wolves put the clamps down.
All this to say, the T-Wolves did not play bad defense. However, it was not playoff-ready defense by any stretch. They allowed 18 — yes 18 — offensive rebounds. That marks their sixth-highest offensive rebound total conceded to an opponent all season long. The paint presence was disastrous, trickled down to the midrange, and as a result, led to 66 points in the paint. Had it not been for Minnesota’s 82 points down low, this would have been a forgettable night in that department.
One good thing that could be extracted from the T-Wolves’ efforts on defense was their ability to bother Young’s outside shots. Young went 1-4 from downtown. Jarringly, he only attempted four shots from outside, down from his season average of 6.6 attempts. Early, the former All-Star tried to get something going with his sidestep to the left. Minnesota shut that down with the quickness.
Otherwise, the biggest holes in a defense led by Gobert were insufficient contests on 13-18 foot pull-ups, as well as zero answer for a multitude of floaters.
A Game of Floaters
Speaking of floaters, this game featured more runners than an avid NBA spectator could remember, dating back to classic matchups between San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker and Detroit Pistons great Chauncey Billups. Young, Mike Conley Jr., De’Andre Hunter, even Clint Cappela showcased the feathery touch.
There were more floaters than you could count. It was nice to see a contest that did not oversaturate the 3-point shot, but harkened back to the art of the midrange. Dejounte Murray lived off of 15-foot elbow jump-shots, despite having a quiet night. Kyle Anderson knew where his bread was buttered and connected on an exquisite turnaround jumper off the back shoulder following an Olajuwon-esque shimmy inside of eight feet.
An Encouraging Conley-Gobert Connection
It’s not so much how often Conley and Gobert connected on screen-and-rolls and easy finds, but rather the impact that Conley’s court presence has had on Gobert’s assertiveness, comfortability and overall play.
There has been a discernible difference in Gobert’s play from his time alongside current Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell and his former Utah Jazz teammate Conley. Gobert finished with 14 points, eight boards and three blocks on 5-10 shooting. While he did not achieve double-double number 27 of the year, he made his presence felt.
He actively called for the ball, utilized his go-to drop step in the post with fluidity and made his man pay for his mistakes. Moreover, he did not clog the lane or cause his teammates to roll their eyes at him, save a defensive rebound he went over Anderson’s head to corral.
Conley went to work as well. He went for his third 20-plus point scoring game of the year, dialing in 21 points on 9-13 overall shooting. He played possum with many screens he was the recipient of at the top of the key, creating space for easy pull-up 3-pointers. He also made quick decisions with the ball which was salubrious to the efficacy of Minnesota’s attack.
The T-Wolves made Coach Finch look very good from an X’s and O’s perspective all night, notching win No. 35 on the year and bringing them above .500 at 35-34. The Dallas Mavericks lost their second consecutive game against the Memphis Grizzlies tonight, dropping them to 34-35, giving the Wolves an uncomfortable one-game lead over their West rivals in the standings.
Minnesota owns the tie-breaker against Dallas, which will be critical as we approach the curtain call of the season.
Anthony Edwards will lead his troops back home to face the Boston Celtics — owners of the second-best record in the NBA. However, Boston has cooled off of late, going 5-5 in their last 10 games, counteracted by a formidable 26-9 home record.