Going into the fourth quarter, the Minnesota Timberwolves held an eight-point lead, 95-87, from a 17-point blast from Anthony Edwards in response to an 18-6 Utah Jazz. But while every Target Center fan was on their feet, riding up Edwards made like few other players in the NBA, the 21-year-old star returned to the bench to start the fourth.
Instead of rising to the occasion as they did Saturday night in an epic victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wolves’ co-ed team went out flat on both ends of the floor and quickly lost momentum. Backcourt D’Angelo Russell and Jaylen Nowell displayed minimal ball containment and defensive effort on the perimeter, and Jaden McDaniels caught his fifth fumble off the ball on an attempt to dig into the fairway with 10:11 left.
Minnesota head coach Chris Finch allowed the Russell/Noel duo to play too long against a team whose offensive backfield is his greatest strength, in what was his second major misstep in running the team’s second-half rotation. The first was a long wait to pull Luca Garza in the third quarter. Nate Knight finally got the call with 4:23 left in the period and helped fuel an 18-10 Coyotes lead to close out the quarter.
By the time Edwards reentered with 7:21 left, Utah had scored 17 points on 7/7 shooting and the Timberwolves’ lead was down to four. So, he took it upon himself to make the payment. He drained a huge tripe with 5:31 left to give his team a 5-point lead, but Austin Rivers fouled Jordan Clarkson on the 3 on the next drive to kill all the momentum. Edwards then drained another 3 overs, but Walker Kessler was behind the Wolves high wall defense before the low man could spin for a layup.
“I mean, I think just a couple of times in the coverage that the roller fell behind us, there was a humble guy late. And then you know, on the switches we were getting beat at the point of offense,” Finch said, explaining his team’s defensive issues. “To be honest, maybe. He should have gone to that smaller squad earlier.”
Those two were the strength of the team’s defensive effort on Saturday. Performances like Mondays should now be expected from this team; Every time they seem to turn a corner, they fall back on a product that has poor effort, limited cohesion, and a frustrated fan base.
The Jazz offense continued to emerge. After the Seas broke away from Ochai Agbaje’s layup with 3:41 to play, Finch called a timeout, perhaps wondering as much as everyone else in the audience how Utah could start the first 8:19 of the quarter 9/9 from 2, 3/3 from 3 and 2. /2 from the free throw line.
Even when the Jazz missed their next shot, Kessler caught the rebound and turned it back again—a perpetual source of offense for Utah in the second half that reopened old wounds caused by the Rudy Gobert trade. So when the Wolves scored again to take a two-point lead on their next possession, can you guess what happened? That’s right, Kessler snapped back in to dump a load of salt on those fresh reptiles.
Every fan in the arena felt the dam was going to break at some point. Minnesota’s heavy offense didn’t match the same sustain of Utah’s varied offense, and it cost them. Russell missed a wide open 3 and the dam finally broke, as Utah rallied on a 3 from Malik Beasley and a pair of free throws from Agbaje to take a 125-120 lead with 1:21 left.
Afterwards, Rivers rewarded Finch for keeping him there all quarter. He prompted an offensive rebound from Kyle Anderson with a banger 3 that generated perhaps the loudest blast of the year in the midtown Minneapolis playoff atmosphere.
Then the trusted veteran slid Clarkson down the other end to give the Wolves the ball with 21.3 seconds left in the game. Instead of calling a timeout, Finch recognized the transfer opportunity his team had. As he did all of the game, Russell went straight to Paisley with a hesitant motion and attacked him to make a block.
After a terrible staff of referees rewarded a flip from Clarkson (who was frustrated because Rivers was successfully chasing him), Minnesota had one last chance.
“Vinci drew a great play for me to pick it up and get space. I had space. I beat him right and I saw Jaden wide open in the corner,” Edwards said in the postgame about what he saw on the final play. “He fires those shots, he makes those shots. I see him working on them all day in practice. If I get another chance to throw them to him, I will throw them to him again.”
It would have been a great shot to redeem McDaniels, who struggled all game with a foul tackle, but it didn’t go down, and the Wolves fell below . 500 to 22-23. Minnesota ended up allowing 39 points on 15/18 shooting (83.3%).
The fourth quarter was the story of the night, no doubt, but there were some interesting stories to watch throughout the game, starting with 2022 Wolves draft pick Walker Kessler.
Walker Kessler shines in his best game as a pro
As if losing to a Jazz without their first pitch of All-Star-to-Be Lauri Markkanen and Keelly Olynyk was bad enough, Monday became a nightmare scenario for Wolves fans who can’t get past Gobert’s trade. Kessler, the youngest of five players sent to the Jazz by the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations, was best on the floor for the majority of the game.
Scored 20 points on 9/13 shooting, grabbed 21 rebounds (nine offensively), assisted on four buckets, and blocked two shots. Notably, Kessler took control of the third quadrant on both ends of the ground in order to turn the tide for Jazz and prevent the wolves from running away with it. The former Auburn star scored eight points (six tackles), grabbed seven rebounds (three offensive tackles), had two fumbles, and had a bunch of shots on the rim.
“Yeah, he’s doing a good job,” Finch said of the once high-profile player. “He’s you know, a great collegiate rim protector historically. He seems to carry over here. He did a good job on the glass, too.”
But Edwards made sure to bring him back. He went right at Kessler for three straight points on the third in his explosive prime, proving Kessler still has a ways to go in the power department before he can dominate the edge against the entire league like Joubert can.
Even without it, Kessler has been a better edge protector so far than Gobert, has better defensive effectiveness plus-minus (+2.2, sixth in the NBA among quarterbacks) than Gobert (+1.6, 10), has a better block percentage (8.3%, first) than Gobert (3.8%, 88%), and has more than twice as many blocks (87) than Gobert (49) despite playing three fewer 320 minutes than Defensive Player of the Year. Even though we’re only halfway through the season, Kessler’s development alone, given his age (21) and rookie contract, has made Gobert’s trade a flop to this point.
Double treble pattern, slow Mo
The beloved forward put together his career-high triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and 0 turnovers in 34 minutes of action on Monday afternoon.
“He’s really good at composing late plays. Getting into central defence, being on his time, finding the right play. I think that’s an indication, I don’t know how many triple-doubles he’s had in his career, but in my opinion, He’s a dual-type player.”
Finch proved it by running things through a trusted vet in the fourth quarter, as Anderson recorded four assists for the team.
Anderson is averaging 7.8 points in the 48.9/39.5/78.6 shooting splits, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game this season, but those numbers come to 9.9 points in the 51.6/50.0/75.0 shooting splits, 4.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists over the past 15 games.
The Wolves will fly to Mile High tomorrow afternoon before battling for the first-place Denver Nuggets Wednesday night on ESPN at 8 p.m. BST.