The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up arguably their biggest road win of the season on Monday night against the Utah Jazz 112-102.
Here are some takeaways from Monday’s win:
Playing with fire
It felt like the Wolves were hanging on by a thread for most of the game on Monday. Even when they opened up a 64-56 lead early in the third quarter, it felt like a game that the Wolves spent a bunch of time in danger of letting it slip away. Every time the Wolves made a run, Utah had a counter, and conversely the Wolves punched back each time the Jazz went on a run of their own.
The game probably felt most in danger when Utah’s Donovan Mitchell completed an and-one to put the Jazz up 86-80 early in the fourth quarter. The Wolves responded by closing the game out on an extended 32-16 run. Keita Bates-Diop started things off on the possession following Mitchell’s and-one with a 3-point play of his own and the game was finally iced with free throws down the stretch by Jeff Teague and Robert Covington.
What happened in between was a whole lot of Karl-Anthony Towns, Teague, and Kelan Martin (more on Towns and Martin later). In the last 9:23 of the game, that trio combined for 24 of Minnesota’s 32 points. That group won this game down the stretch for the Wolves on a night when they were once again without Andrew Wiggins (illness).
When the season is only 14 games old, everything is a small sample size and can easily be over magnified, but this feels like a win that can only help to send the Wolves off in the right direction.
For it being so early in the season, it does feel like the Wolves have dealt with quite a bit of adversity. They’ve lost Towns, Teague, and Wiggins all for multiple games due to various things, but still found a way to make it to 8-6 on the season. Credit to the players that have been able to pick things up when called upon, but also credit to head coach Ryan Saunders and his staff. After a very lackluster weekend showing on back-to-back nights against Washington and Houston, the Wolves showed up on the road where it’s very difficult to win. Very impressive.
Kelan Martin shoots his way onto the scene
Martin was signed to the Wolves on a two-way deal after an impressive showing in the Las Vegas Summer League this past July. He spent much of the early season in Iowa with the Wolves’ G League affiliate, but was called up recently as the team needed some depth with Shabazz Napier remaining out with a hamstring injury and Andrew Wiggins being away from the team.
Martin struggled in his first two games of real action – discounting the 4:51 of garbage time he played in a blowout over the Charlotte Hornets in the season’s second game. This weekend against Washington and Houston he was just 4-of-15 from the field including 0-of-10 from 3-point range.
Monday night he appeared much more comfortable and came up huge when the Wolves needed him. He played a career-high 24 minutes – partly due to Jake Layman leaving with left foot soreness – and scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, knocking down a pair of threes along the way.
This was a night that the Wolves have to hope builds confidence for the two-way player moving forward. Bottling up this performance on a consistent basis might be tough, but knowing that Martin can do something like this can help the Wolves in the long run.
A night like this is also a testament to Gersson Rosas and his staff for finding a player like this on their two-way deal. It’s really difficult to imagine CJ Williams or Jared Terrell – last year’s two-way players – having this type of impact on a game. The Wolves have put a new emphasis on things like the Summer League, the G League, and player development. This was a small payoff, but one that it doesn’t feel like would have existed in previous seasons.
Last season Towns was left off the All-NBA team in favor of Utah’s Rudy Gobert. That decision – one which this writer agreed with – changed the value of Towns’ current contract. There may not have actually been vengeance on Towns’ mind for that, but he certainly proved that he’s more than deserving of being lauded as an All-NBA player on Monday night.
With Gobert being the NBA’s premier interior defender, the Wolves were able to use Towns as the perfect counter to that. He shot a career-high 15 3-pointers against Utah, connecting on seven of them. That made Gobert have to come out of his comfort zone a bit defensively and helped to negate the effect he normally has on the rim. Even if Towns hadn’t been connecting on as many threes as he did, the attempts were vital.
Since the suspension early in the season Towns had looked like he had lost his rhythm of sorts. On Monday night he looked more like the player that dominated the first few games of the season instead. That’s the guy the Wolves need to show up on a regular basis moving forward, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that he will.
As stated above, the Wolves have dealt with what feels like an unordinary amount of adversity early in the season. Towns missed a pair of games due to a suspension, Teague was absent for four games dealing with an illness, and Wiggins has now missed three straight games due to a personal issue and an illness.
In the two games Towns missed the Wolves went 1-1, with Teague out they went 2-2, and with Wiggins missing 1-2. Those numbers are nothing crazy, but they’ve stayed afloat early on when it could’ve been easy to fold. The Wolves have had their opening night starting five available in just five games so far. In one of those Towns was ejected, and in another one of those Teague came off the bench in his first game back.
That makes this team sitting at 8-6 on the season that much more impressive.
The Wolves and Jazz play once again on Wednesday night at Target Center. Talk to you then.