After the game, everyone said they knew what had to happen. They knew the defensive scheme, knew the plan. It just wasn’t executed.
But here’s where there wasn’t quite as much consensus: What to do about it.
Wednesday at Target Center, in front of an announced crowd of 12,369 so quiet you could hear one sarcastic fan telling Jazz center Rudy Gobert to tuck in his jersey late in the game, the Wolves lost 127-116.
It was the team’s sixth consecutive loss, the longest such streak since the end of the 2016-17 season. Once again the culprit was defense.
After an acceptable start to the game, the Wolves (10-14) again imploded defensively, allowing the Jazz — which entered the game having lost six of eight — to score 102 points, shoot 58% overall and make 15 of 28 three-pointers over the final three quarters.
The Wolves have allowed opponents 128.2 points during this six-game streak.
Breaking down everything that is, well, breaking down isn’t easy. But coach Ryan Saunders started here:
“I think the most important thing would be the physicality of our defense,” he said. “That needs to improve. There’s a number of things that we need to improve right now. We’ve done it before. Two weeks ago we were feeling better about our defense. I know it can be done.”
But doing it?
While shooting 56.6% overall and making 16 of 35 three-pointers, the Jazz got 30 points from Donovan Mitchell, 23 from Joe Ingles and 20 points and 16 rebounds from Gobert. Combined, those three were 30-for-45.
Jeff Teague came off the bench to hit 11 of 16 shots — and all four of his three-pointers — in a 32-point performance that helped the Wolves keep the score as close as they did. He had 15 of those in the second quarter as the Wolves forged a 57-57 halftime tie. Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and 11 rebounds but shot 6-for-15. Andrew Wiggins had 26 points.
The Wolves were within two at 77-75 on Wiggins’ step-back three-pointer with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left in the third quarter. But the Jazz finished the quarter — during which the Jazz shot 66.7% — on a 20-3 run to go up 14 at 95-81, then pushed that lead to 20 in the fourth.
“It’s just communication,” said Towns, who had five turnovers.
Towns discounted the team’s early defensive successes, suggesting that much of that came against teams still honing their systems. “We were catching teams slipping,” he said. “We’re 20 games in now. People have their systems down pat. They know how they’re going to play. They now what they’re going to do.”
And the Wolves? “I think the coaching staff has done a great job of putting a system in place,” Towns said. “It’s more about discipline and execution, and for 48 [minutes]. It’s easy to go out and play 30 minutes of a basketball game. It’s hard to execute for 48 straight.”
It has been of late for the Wolves.
“We all know what we’re supposed to do,” Wiggins said. “There shouldn’t be any confusion.”
But there is. And frustration, it would appear, from watching the Wolves down the stretch of Wednesday’s game.
“For me, personally it’s high,” Towns said of his irritation level. “Because I want to win. You just want to win. We were in a great spot. Now, we obviously dug ourselves a hole.”