SALT LAKE CITY – Karl-Anthony Towns clutched his left wrist and headed to the locker room after a hard fall. A momentary panic swelled through a Timberwolves fan base that remembered Towns missing the final month of last season because of a left wrist fracture.
In the immediate aftermath of Towns' exit Saturday night, the Wolves were nursing an eight-point lead with 5:13 to play. They couldn't know at the time Towns would calm their nerves by checking back in with under a minute to play. While he was out, his teammates had to do what they could to hold the lead in a game they controlled most of the way.
They didn't panic — and they did just enough.
The Wolves pulled out a 116-111 victory over the Jazz at Vivint Arena, drawing a five-second violation on the Jazz's last chance to tie the score, trailing by three with 4.2 seconds remaining.
"They responded great and [the message] was pretty much just be solid," coach Ryan Saunders said. "That was all we had to do, was be solid. Lean on each other in those moments and we have a connected locker room. For us only being together for a short period of time, I am pleased with that, and that can usually help you through."
D'Angelo Russell, who hit key buckets while Towns was out, iced the game with two free throws after failing to put the game out of reach by hitting one of two moments earlier. He finished with 25 points to lead the Wolves.
Towns said after the game his wrist was "pretty sore" and he couldn't catch anything but added he wanted to come back in and act as a decoy to draw away defensive attention.
"I'm going to just stay positive," Towns said. "It's only fitting I hurt my wrist in 2020."
With the Wolves clinging to a three-point lead, Saunders subbed in Jarrett Culver and the Wolves employed a switching defense to not let a Utah player get an open look at a three. The Jazz didn't even get an open look at a pass.
"Eventually they didn't get the ball in because we all played good defense and stayed in front of our guys," Culver said.
It was the kind of sequence that could make a coach swell with pride. Saunders was also swelling with pride at the play of Anthony Edwards, who ignited the Wolves in the first half with a fearless offensive performance. He finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
"He gets better and better every time he's out on the floor," Saunders said.
Culver had a good night with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting while Malik Beasley hit a key runner while Towns was out en route to 18 points. Towns finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
On one sequence in the first half, Edwards had the ball near the top of the key and the only person standing between him and the basket was Gobert.
Gobert is a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and perhaps the best rim protector in the league. Edwards wasn't fazed. He dribbled left, spun on Gobert and put up a 5-foot shot over the 7-1 center for a seemingly easy bucket.
Edwards said he wasn't intimidated by Gobert on that drive.
"I'll start off by saying I'm not a fan, so I relish every moment," Edwards said. "But as far as being excited that I'm going against [someone] or not, I just go out there and play basketball and do what I've been drafted to do, and that's put the ball in the hoop to the best of my ability."
He did that well enough Saturday. Edwards got them going, but it was the Wolves' defense that helped them build a lead that reached 17 in the third quarter. The Wolves held Utah to 38% shooting, and despite 21 points from Donovan Mitchell and 20 from Mike Conley, came up with the necessary stops.
Their reward for such a big win? A date in Los Angeles with the defending champion Lakers on Sunday. After Saturday, they're not lacking for confidence.
"It shows we could be a really good team and can compete with anybody," Edwards said. "My brothers in there, they're just as hungry as I am and I feel like we're coming for everybody this year."