Last night the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Utah Jazz 116-111 and for once in my life, I feel happy. I’m kidding, but I do want to soak this feeling up. The Wolves face the LA teams next and I fear that those games may not go as well as this. I’ve been a Wolves fan for long enough to know that I should always be cautious with my optimism, but right now, I’m riding than my 10-year-old self at the peak of The Wild Thing. So, I’m going to share three things that have me feeling really good about the Timberwolves team.
DLo is Real(o)
I recently outed myself on Twitter as a DLo truther. Simply said, I have concerns that his game is more flash than function. But, when it mattered last night, D’Angelo Russell stepped up and kept the Wolves from falling apart at the end of the game.
Karl-Anthony Towns had to head to the locker room after falling hard on his left wrist with 5:13 left in the fourth. The Wolves held a 103-95 lead and when KAT left the game, it seemed like the Jazz were primed for a dramatic late-game, comeback victory. A type of victory that is very familiar to Wolves fans. But, just when my Timberwolves anxieties were howling their loudest DLo swooped in and saved the night.
He made a couple of difficult step-back jumpers in a row and if you listen closely to the broadcast, you could hear him say “Don’t worry everyone, I’m winning this for my best friend, Karl.” Okay, he didn’t actually say that, but — stick with me here — it felt like his spirit said that. Russell scored nine points in the fourth and kept the Wolves lead large enough to foil any heroics the Jazz had in store.
Edwards is Ready for Primetime
It has been astounding to watch Anthony Edwards’ confidence grow every time he touches the floor. At the beginning of the game, the Wolves were struggling to find consistent offense. With five minutes left in the first quarter, Edwards checked in the game, hit a step-back three, and gave the Wolves an 18-15 lead from which they never looked back. All-in-all Edwards put up 18 points on 8-12 shooting from the field.
There has been some clamoring about Edwards moving into the starting line-up, but I think the bench is a perfect place for him. Without his scoring and shot creation on the second unit, I’m not sure how they would score.
And of course, Edwards left us smiling with another brilliant media moment:
Believe it or not, the Wolves perimeter defense looked formidable last night. Josh Okogie was the primary defender on Donovan Mitchell and watching him was a thing of beauty. Mitchell couldn’t get anything going, and by halftime, he was 1-6 with 4 points. He ended the night with 21 points, but it took him 23 shots to do it.
Aside from Okogie, the rest of the Wolves played solid defense holding the Jazz to 38-percent shooting on the night. The Jazz also committed 18 turnovers, largely due to the pressure that the Timberwolves defenders put on the ball. Ricky Rubio, Jarrett Culver, Malik Beasley, and even D’Angelo Russell made sure that nothing came easy for the Jazz.
Finally, the Wolves sealed this victory with a defensive stand. That’s right folks, you read that correctly. A defensive stand.
With 4.7 seconds left in the game, the Wolves had a 114-111 lead. DLo was at the free-throw line to ice the game. And now, a short play:
Dave Benz: If Russell hits these free throws, that pretty much seals the game.
D’Angelo Russell hits free throw 1 of 2
Jim Peterson: Eh…still a lot of time left.
Chelanga Langason: *looks at clock* 4.7 seconds? That’s not a lot of time, c’mon Jim!
D’Angelo Russell misses the second free throw, Rudy Gobert rebounds and calls a timeout with 4.2 seconds remaining.
Chelanga Langason: Oh my god 4.2 seconds is so much time the Wolves are going to lose this game.
I was very nervous. But, on the ensuing inbound play, the Wolves defense was incredible. I’ll give Ryan Saunders credit here. Jarrett Culver checked in for Towns and we got to see the smallest lineup we may see all year. It was both creative and bold to finish the game with Rubio, Russell, Beasley, Culver, and Okogie on the floor. This lineup allowed the Wolves to have all of their best defenders (and DLo) on the court at the same time.
Since it was a 3-point game, it was simple enough to hide Russell on Gobert. Beasley defended the inbounder while Culver, Okogie, and Rubio chased the Jazz players around the perimeter forcing a 5-second violation. It was a thing of beauty.
There were some concerning things about the game last night. The Wolves lost the rebound battle 58-40. Jake Layman (0 points on 0 shots) and Juancho Hernangomez (0 points on 1 shot) were comically ineffective. Karl-Anthony Towns fell really hard on his wrist and will need to be evaluated further. But for now, we can ignore all that. The Wolves are 2-0 and we can all feel really good about that until the next game.