Minnesota surrendered another 40 points in the first quarter Saturday in Utah. This after the Timberwolves did the same in consecutive quarters midweek in Sacramento.
More poor defense. And against Utah, it figured to lead to a blowout defeat like the Wolves suffered five days ago to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Then everything changed.
The Timberwolves turned into a defensive juggernaut, flying around the floor, recovering, helping one another. Utah’s extra passes went from equaling open shots to ending in turnovers.
Utah turned the ball over 20 times. The Jazz, who came into the game with an NBA-leading record of 44-15, scored just 34 points over the middle two quarters.
That defense helped lead to offense on the other end. Anthony Edwards provided an offensive spark, and Minnesota pulled out a 101-96 upset of the Jazz in Salt Lake City.
The game-sealing play was, fittingly, made on the defensive end. Mike Conley, who had just missed a pair of open triples, passed up another look with roughly 25 seconds to play and instead drove in and tried to toss a lob to Rudy Gobert. Anthony Edwards intercepted it.
Karl-Anthony Towns made a free-throw on the other end to put Minnesota up four with just 15 seconds to play. On the other end, Jaden McDaniels’ length didn’t allow Bojan Bogdanović to get up a good look from deep, and he aired his 3-point attempt.
Minnesota has already clinched the season series against Utah, one of the best teams in the NBA, ahead of the final tilt between the two teams Monday at Target Center.
The length and relentlessness of McDaniels, Josh Okogie and Jarred Vanderbilt gave Utah fits.
Over the final three quarters, Minnesota held Utah to 33 percent shooting from the field, including 31 percent from deep. The Timberwolves tallied 13 steals.
The last three quarters were as good defensively as Chris Finch has seen his team play.
“It all starts with our willingness and physicality to get into the ball,” Finch said. “Our guys did a great job of reading the gaps.”
Towns finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Edwards had 23 points, nine rebounds and five steals, flashing his signature smile after several key moments.
Whenever Minnesota scores a big win, Edwards is at the center of it.
“He has the ability to make plays that not everybody can. And when you see that, you’re inspired,” Finch said. “When he plays that way, he’s playing with great energy, and that translates to his teammates.”
Minnesota flipped what was once a 17-point deficit into an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. Utah, unsurprisingly, battled back to take a lead. But Minnesota never wavered. Towns scored a key bucket to put the Wolves back in front and Minnesota’s defense — ranked worst in the NBA since the all-star break — sealed the deal.