When asked to describe the dynamic between Timberwolves assistant coach Elston Turner, the team's de facto defensive coordinator, and center Rudy Gobert, the four-time Defensive Player of the Year, head coach Chris Finch paused for a moment to search for the right analogy.

"Like divorced parents trying to co-parent," Finch said while laughing. "A healthy co-parent. My only caveat to that is they're not divorced. They're on the same team."

Longtime assistant Turner and Gobert, with input from Finch, teamed up to turn the Wolves defense into the No. 1 unit in the league this season, and it is the main reason the Wolves are in the Western Conference finals, with Game 2 Friday against the Mavericks at Target Center.

Gobert's value was highlighted Wednesday in the Timberwolves' three-point loss to the Mavericks. The Wolves were plus-10 when he was on the floor, minus-13 when he wasn't.

"As soon as Rudy left the court, they just drove, drove, drove," Finch said.

But the intimidating defense the Wolves played for most of this season didn't come all the way together in Gobert's first season in Minnesota. It took trial and error, it took Gobert stepping out of his comfort zone at the behest of Turner and Finch; it also took them listening to him in what Finch called a "100 percent collaborative" process.

But that collaboration between Gobert and Turner hasn't always been sunshine, rainbows and lollipops — and neither would have it any other way.

Take last season, when Turner said this about the dialogue he and Gobert could have: "When things didn't go exactly right, there were times where we had conversations, some of them begin with a curse word and end with a curse word."

When Gobert was asked about those talks, he smiled and said, "still this year," as in, they're still happening.

"I love him. I love people that are passionate," Gobert said. "… We don't have to agree on everything. But we agree on one thing: We want to win, and we trust one another and those conversations are always healthy."

Buying in

Turner, 64, has been an assistant with Portland, Sacramento, Phoenix, Houston, Memphis and the Wolves, and the former NBA guard has become accustomed to building different styles of defenses.

Gobert, however, played one way in Utah with heavy conservative-style drop coverage. It generated a lot of success for the Jazz, but it wasn't what the Wolves wanted to run when they got Gobert before the 2022-23 season.

Aware of ways teams capitalized on Utah's defense in the playoffs, Finch and Turner were determined to adapt the Wolves defense accordingly. That required asking Gobert to "cut the cord off," according to Turner — do things he wasn't always comfortable doing: playing more in space, playing up on screens more instead of retreating to the rim, getting more involved in rotations, switching more.

"He obviously defaults to what he wants to do because he's damn good at it," Finch said. "But gameplan-wise … you want to stay on the floor, be in all these high-leverage situations, [and] we have to be able to do these things."

So the coaching staff and Gobert met each other halfway, with Gobert trying things he wasn't accustomed to in Year 1, and when it didn't always work, he let Turner know how he felt and Turner would challenge him to keep at it, with neither mincing words.

"He's old-school, but he's real," Gobert said. "Having coaches that are real, that will tell you things like they are, is invaluable in this world. Sometimes people are scared to upset you. If you want to win, I tell a guy what I want to tell him. He tells me what he needs to tell me, and I think that's love."

To Turner, these conversations are representative of the way coaches were when he was an NBA player. They were never personal.

"It's called coaching," Turner said. "At some point, this is my 26th year, so I've played for old-school coaches who, that's the way they communicated. And I think Rudy, Ant [Anthony Edwards], all these guys, they're open to that, they accept it because they know it comes from a good place."

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Seeing results

Old habits can die hard with Gobert, whose natural instinct is to protect the rim. He will sometimes sprint to cover the basket even when it might not be his responsibility and is instead a teammate's as the "low man" based on the coverage the Wolves are deploying.

Finch always gets a kick out of pointing this out in film sessions.

"I'll just jokingly say, 'Well, here we are again at the age-old debate,' " Finch said.

Last season, the Wolves initially tried to toggle back and forth between coverages, depending on whether Gobert was on the floor or not, but that often led to confusion, so they Wolves had to synthesize how they were going to play. It required Gobert to change.

"We have other good defenders," Turner said. "And he doesn't have to clean up every situation, because we got some good defenders."

The Wolves could play the way Gobert did in Utah, where perimeter defenders would just funnel their drivers to him. But the team did worse on the glass with this tactic because it took Gobert out of position to get a rebound. If a teammate could keep his man in front of him and contest a shot, Gobert could be in better position to rebound.

The Wolves improved from the 26th most efficient defensive rebounding team in the league last season to ninth.

"Rudy can be pretty hardheaded and stubborn, as most great players are," Finch said. "They're great because they believe in the things they do and do well. But Rudy has been way more open-minded this year and a lot of that was coming to the realization of, we had to learn from last year. … He's got to trust his teammates are going to do things."

In a good place

Even amid the brutally honest conversations, Finch said there's a lot of humor in the staff's interactions with Gobert. Finch, who has been seated behind the bench as he recovers from surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon, now can hear what players are saying to each other during timeouts when coaches huddle on the floor.

Gobert often likes to remind everyone to guard the three-point line, and Finch thought that advice was ironic during the second-round games against the Nuggets.

"Last series, he kept yelling no threes, and I was like, 'Your guy is the only one making threes,' " Finch said. "Aaron Gordon is the only guy making threes. So we have a lot of fun with Rudy, and he laughs at these things."

But Finch was quick to add he thought the idea that Gobert was harming the Wolves in the Denver series was a "joke."

The Wolves push back at the narrative that Gobert can't play in meaningful playoff games, that he gets "played off the floor" because they have built their defense specifically to prevent it from happening.

"I want to win so bad, that I'm at a point in my career and in my maturity that I understand that," Gobert said. "Those things are important, and once again, people can feel when you're being honest with them and when it comes from the heart."

Turner helped win Gobert over.

"I don't think I could've found a better complement to me, my personality, our staff, our defensively philosophy," Finch said of Turner.

Turner is only too happy to heap praise on Gobert for buying into what the Wolves wanted him to do. He said there are "way fewer" of those profanity-filled conversations.

But then he paused and started to laugh.

"Oh man," he said. "Begin with a curse word, end with a curse word."