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Coming into this game the Timberwolves were looking to find their footing against a Jazz team that has been among the top in the league defensively, sporting the league’s second-best defensive rating. In particular, they had to contend with Rudy Gobert, who came into the game ranking second in the league in blocks.
The Timberwolves came out of the gate looking to launch three-pointers, as their first three baskets came from beyond the arc. But the real story of the first few minutes was the dominance of Rudy Gobert on the boards. On the first possession of the game, Gobert secured 2 offensive rebounds and may have had a 3rd if the Wolves hadn’t knocked the ball out of bounds. Before the quarter was half over, Gobert had snatched up 6 offensive rebounds, leading to a 14-9 lead and a Wolves timeout.
Tom Thibodeau must have given the Wolves some of Wiggy’s secret stuff during the timeout, because the Wolves came roaring back, spurred by some tough defense. The Wolves went on a 16-2 run following Thibs time out, capped off by a thundering dunk courtesy of – who else? Zach Lavine.
Gorgui Dieng would finish off a quietly solid first quarter with a nifty putback to bring his point total to 7. All told, the Timberwolves would end the quarter with the lead, 27-22.
The Timberwolves picked up right where the left off at the beginning of the second quarter. Nemanja Bjelica must have noticed that the Jazz were closing out on him a little too hard, so he threw a head fake and drove the lane, leading to an and-1.
The Timberwolves were too busy admiring their lead, because the Jazz were able to stage a big run of their own, at one point scoring 13 of 15 points, to take the lead. It’s pretty clear the young Wolves lost focus both offensively and defensively, evidenced by numerous turnovers on offense and missed assignments on defense.
The rest of the quarter was much of the same, punctuated only briefly with moments like this:
The Wolves ended the second quarter much the way they had played the rest of the quarter, with 4 turnovers in their last 6 possessions. By midway point of the game, the Timberwolves had coughed up 9 turnovers, resulting in a 50-45 deficit at the break.
Fans of the 2016-17 Timberwolves have learned to dread the third quarter, as the Wolves have been outscored by an average of 8 points in third quarters this season. It appeared that it would be more of the same against the Jazz, with the visitors scoring on 8 of their first 9 possessions of the quarter. It was a combination of Ricky Rubio and Karl Anthony Towns that kept the Wolves (10 of Minnesota’s first 13 points in the quarter) in the game through this stretch of poor defense.
Unfortunately Ricky and KAT both got into foul trouble, prompting early seats on the bench for them and a need for someone to step up. That someone was Zach Lavine, who went on a tear to end the third quarter. His ability to get to the rim, even against a team as good defensively as the Jazz, kept Minnesota in the game. When the dust settled, the Timberwolves were able to hold serve in the third, and they trailed 74-69 heading into the final frame.
The fourth quarter began with the Wolves needing a spark. It came from an unlikely source, as Shabazz Muhammad had just 2 points in his 10:27 through 3 quarters. But he picked a perfect time to get hot. He scored 8 of the Wolves first 11 points in the fourth, but none were better than his thunderous dunk off the pick and roll:
Combined with some more good offense from Zach Lavine and a clutch three from Tyus Jones, the Wolves took their first lead since the 3 minutes mark of the second quarter. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, as a series of defensive miscues and missed shots led to an 11-0 run by the Jazz. Karl Anthony Towns must have walked under a ladder on his way to the arena, because he couldn’t get a shot to fall in this game. He finished 8/19 tonight, and it seemed like half of those misses were on layups he normally makes.
The Wolves held serve the rest of the way, but they needed one last run in a game dominated by runs. Ultimately the Timberwolves were undone by a familiar foe, their lack of understanding of team defense. There were countless times throughout the game that Timberwolves looked on rather than rotating over to help as their teammates were beaten. Other times they looked to help and lost their man on a cut to the basket. Until the Timberwolves can learn to play together, this will be a common theme throughout most of their losses. Fans (and Thibs) will have to be patient as this young team learns on the fly.
Final score: Jazz 112, Timberwolves, 103
Zach Lavine played fantastic. This may have been his best all-around game. He finished with 28 points on only 17 shots, to go with 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Not only that, but it seemed like most of his points came when the Wolves needed them most. Without a big game from Lavine, this would have been a blowout.
Rudy Gobert is a beast inside. He finished with 17 rebounds (8 of them offensive) and 3 blocks in addition to many more altered shots.
Wiggins and KAT were off today. On top of a combined 14/35 shooting performance (including a number of missed layups by KAT – perhaps influenced by Gobert’s presence), they combined for 11 fouls and many missed assignments on defense. Perhaps Thibs had told Wiggins to stick to Gordon Hayward like glue, but there were numerous times where Wiggins could have helped his teammates on drives and looked like he was oblivious to the rest of the play. Towns was a team-worst -18, and was in foul trouble most of the night.
What happened to Rubio? He didn’t see the floor in the 4th quarter, and it appears that Thibs has decided Tyus Jones will be his 4th quarter point guard. I can understand the need for his shooting, particularly in a comeback situation, but just as much is lost from a playmaking and defensive standpoint with Rubio off the floor. Rubio was one of only 2 Wolves with a positive plus/minus in his 25 minutes.
Up next: The Timberwolves begin a home-away back-to-back matchup against the always entertaining New York Knicks on Wednesday (11/30) at 8:00pm EST.