Joe Ingles had nobody around him, so he paused for a second, gathered himself and fired up a three.
A few minutes later the ball swung to Jae Crowder and nobody was near him as he prepared to take a corner three, one of the best shots in basketball.
Then on the next possession, the Jazz ran another pick-and-roll involving Rudy Gobert, who got an uncontested dunk.
Most of the second half was like that for Utah, which scored whenever it wanted in a 125-111 victory at Target Center over the battered Timberwolves, who might finally be seeing the sum of their injuries catch up to them.
“I’ve said it a number of times before, I’ll never make excuses for anything,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said.
But Saunders did acknowledge “reality does come into play” when you’re down four main contributors like the Wolves are in Robert Covington, Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague. Sunday showed where all those absences might be having their greatest effect on the Wolves — on defense.
“We do have some guys who weren’t playing much early in the season and even last week, in a sense,” Saunders said. “So it always takes time to get to know each other’s tendencies as a teammate and then just be comfortable out there with each other.”
But the Wolves don’t have the luxury of time, not as they sit four games back of the No. 8 seed.
“It’s tough right now because we haven’t practiced a lot,” guard Jerryd Bayless said. “We’ve had a game every other day for a while now. … But we just got to figure it out.”
The Jazz shot a double-take-inducing 71 percent in the second half (27-for-38) as they sliced and diced the Wolves with their pick-and-roll action involving Gobert (17 points).
Even though the Wolves shot well themselves — 17-for-36 from three-point range — they had no answer for the Jazz, led by former Wolves guard Ricky Rubio (18 points, eight assists) and Donovan Mitchell (29 points). The Wolves wasted a stellar offensive night from Andrew Wiggins, who had 35 points, and turn-back-the-clock performances from Bayless and Luol Deng, who scored 19 and 15 points, respectively.
What was the biggest issue the Wolves cited for the defensive breakdowns? A familiar one — communication.
“We just have to communicate and have each other’s back …” guard Josh Okogie said. “Communication is always tough, especially when fatigue hits and things move so fast, but we got to figure it out.”
That can happen when you’re rolling out lineup combinations that haven’t had much practice time and are trying to jell while playing games in a contested playoff race.
“I really thought guys played hard,” Deng said. “It was just lack of focus at times where they just executed so well, and they really punish your mistakes.”
That seemed like it was happening on every defensive possession for the Wolves. The Jazz got shots from prime spots on the floor — at the rim and corner threes — most of the night. It’s not as if the Jazz is an offensive juggernaut. Utah entered the night with the 20th-most-efficient offense in the NBA.
“Coaches are doing a good job of just getting guys ready and fighting as hard as we can,” Deng said. “Just unfortunate we got a lot of guys hurt right now. We just keep pushing the way we do and when those guys come back, we’ll even be a better team.”
But when that happens, will it be too late to salvage the season?