Timberwolves Exploit Jazz Key Weaknesses in Win
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -If the Utah Jazz were wondering what weaknesses their newlook roster had this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves made sure they were well-aware in a 112-102 Jazz loss Monday night.
The Jazz rebuilt their team this offseason, focusing on building up new strengths for a team that was too one dimensional last season. The Jazz added Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay, and said goodbye to key pieces Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio.
While the Jazz added significant playmaking over the summer, they sacrificed defensive size, both in the front and backcourts, and it haunted them in key stretches against Minnesota.
With Ed Davis out with a fractured fibula, and Tony Bradley struggling over the last three Jazz outings, the Jazz depth at the center position has become an exaggerated weakness, and the team struggled to adjust to the Timberwolves in the first half.
The Small Line-up
With 3:16 remaining in the first quarter, the Jazz turned to a unique lineup of Emmanuel Mudiay, Donovan Mitchell, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles and Jeff Green. Green was forced into playing the center position, while Exum made his season debut at small forward.
The Jazz were outscored 12-3 to close the quarter, largely based on the Timberwolves superior size.
Wolves center Gorgui Gieng got the run started with two made free-throws off an offensive rebound. He’d score four more of Minnesota’s 12 point run on easy close range baskets over smaller Jazz defenders. Point guard Jeff Teague hit a nine-foot spinning jumper in the paint, and rookie Jarrett Culver made a layup to beat the first quarter buzzer, and gave the Wolves a 36-32 lead at the end of the first.
“We had a stretch the end of the first quarter when we really started to turn the ball over and lost some rhythm,” coach Quin Snyder said, “I think we need to be better in a number of things that we didn’t do well tonight.”
Teague’s 18-foot jump shot was the only basket made outside of the paint, or at the free-throw line. With Favors in the lineup last season, the Jazz regularly able to continue their high defensive level in the paint, even without Gobert in the lineup.
Teague and Towns
In the fourth quarter, the loss of Rubio’s size defensively was as apparent as the loss of Favors.
With 6:44 remaining in the game, and the Jazz leading 88-85, Minnesota resorted largely to the two-man game of Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Jazz had no answer. The Wolves would close the game on a 27-14 run, with Teague and Towns contributing 17 of the 24 points.
Towns made three three-point shots during the stretch, two of which were assisted by Teague, while Teague added eight points of his own. His lone made basket came off a Towns assist, while adding six free-throws, four of which were the result of Conley fouls.
“We guarded and [Towns] got hot. I think that’s a credit to them,” Mitchell said, “We did what we were supposed to do, obviously they hit shots and we started to break down after that.”
Conley’s lack of size was a point of emphasis for the Wolves all night, as Teague finished the game with 21 points and 11 assists.
“It’s something that I thought we tried to adjust to in the game,” Conley said, “But [Towns] is a very good player. [Teague] is very good, and they can both make reads on that, and they made the right ones.”
Towns added a game high 29 points and 13 rebounds.
While the Jazz have been quick to overcome their flaws early in the season, the team will face a tough turnaround, having to face the Wolves once again Wednesday night in Minnesota who appear to have solved the Jazz equation.
Not All Bad Signs
Though the small bench unit struggled mightily in the first half, it bounced back with a stronger effort in the second half.
The Jazz went back to the lineup with 3:02 left in the third quarter trailing 71-70, and the over the next 5:39 of the game, the unit went on a 16-9 run.
Green, who had a miserable first half for the Jazz had eight points during the run, including two made three pointers.
Mudiay added his best highlight in a Jazz uniform during the stretch, freezing Culver on a fake behind the back pass, and finishing at the rim with an easy layup giving the team a 78-74 lead.
The Jazz would stick with the lineup early in the fourth quarter, building an 85-80 lead before Bojan Bogdanovic and Gobert returned to the lineup.