SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tough defense is becoming a crucial part of Minnesota’s basketball identity.
That was evidenced by what the Timberwolves did in the closing seconds of their 116-111 victory over Utah on Saturday night.
The Jazz had a chance to set up a tying 3-pointer and force overtime with 4.2 seconds left. Minnesota did not even let it get to that point.
The Timberwolves forced Bojan Bogdanovic to commit a five-second violation on an inbounds pass. Utah got the turnover and Minnesota got the win.
“We played a tough game today,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We gutted this one out. Played great defense all around.”
D’Angelo Russell had 25 points and six assists to lead the Timberwolves. Towns added 16 points and 12 rebounds. Minnesota had five players score in double figures.
Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points and Donovan Mitchell added 21 to lead the Jazz. Mike Conley added 20 points and Rudy Gobert chipped in 18 points and 17 rebounds. Utah trailed over the final three quarters.
The Jazz rallied from a double-digit deficit and closed within 107-103 with 2:27 left on back-to-back 3-pointers from Mitchell. Russell hit a jumper and Josh Okogie cut to the basket for a dunk on Minnesota’s next two possessions to keep Utah from erasing the Timberwolves’ lead.
Utah made it a one-possession game on Gobert’s putback dunk with 5.9 seconds left. Russell made only 1 of 2 free throws, giving the Jazz a chance to set up a tying 3-pointer that never materialized.
“They were the more aggressive team, and they took us out of our actions,” Mitchell said. “We couldn’t use their aggression against them.”
Anthony Edwards tallied nine of his 18 points in the first quarter.
“He’s going to continue take steps because he has a growth mindset,” Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “I thought he made plays within the offense too. You don’t see that a lot from a teenager.”
The Jazz cut the deficit to a single possession near the midway point of the second quarter, pulling within 44-41 on a floater from Clarkson. Minnesota stamped out the rally with a 10-2 run, punctuated by a banked floater from Beasley, and extended its lead to 54-43.
Utah struggled with defending the perimeter and could not adapt enough on offense to handle consistent pressure from the Timberwolves.
Minnesota shot 55% from 3-point range in the first half. The Timberwolves made 11 3-pointers before halftime. On the other end, they forced 12 Jazz turnovers and turned those into 17 points.
“Minnesota was the more aggressive team in the first half,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “They ran, they defended, and we didn’t do either of those things.”
Not much changed for either team in the third quarter. Minnesota led by as many as 17 points in the quarter, going up 86-69 on a Naz Reid 3-pointer.
Timberwolves: Towns blocked four shots, his highest number of blocks in a game since the 2018-19 season. … Jarrett Culver went 3 of 3 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points. … Minnesota scored 26 points off 18 Utah turnovers.
Jazz: Conley scored Utah’s first nine points of the third quarter. … Mitchell and Bogdanovic were a combined 9-of-39 shooting from the field. … Royce O’Neale finished with 13 rebounds. … The Jazz had a moment of silence before tipoff for Utah running back Ty Jordan, who died from an accidental gunshot wound on Friday night.
BRINGING BACK THE FANS
1,500 fans piled into Vivint Smart Home Arena to watch the Jazz play their home opener. Utah is one of the few NBA teams to play games in front of fans this season. Fans were limited to seats in the lower bowl and none sat courtside near either team.
The Jazz enjoyed playing before actual fans again.
“It was a breath of fresh air for all of us,” Conley said. “It sounded like a lot more people than were there. Loved having the fans and our families there.”
The Timberwolves also embraced seeing socially distanced faces in the crowd.
“It was a dope experience,” Edwards said.
GUTTING IT OUT
Towns left late in the fourth quarter after falling on his left wrist. He returned to action for the final 57.7 seconds. The wrist was sore after the fall, but the Minnesota center decided to finish things out and play through the pain down the stretch.
“I didn’t just want to quit the game and go get X-rays,” Towns said. “I wanted to be there in case my team needed me.”
Towns fractured the same wrist in February before the NBA All-Star break.
Timberwolves: Continue their three-game road trip against the Clippers in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Jazz: Hit the road to face the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Monday.
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