It wasn't pretty, but Timberwolves still improve to 2-0 with win over Pelicans

·3 min read

Oct. 24—Brandon Ingram rose up and buried a triple with 10 minutes, 38 seconds left in the second quarter Saturday to put the Pelicans up 33-30 at Target Center.

It was the last field goal New Orleans would make for the next 7 minutes, 55 seconds, until Ingram finally forced in a tough look on the interior. Over that stretch, the Timberwolves went on a 20-2 run, sparked almost entirely by their defense.

That was a microcosm of Saturday's 96-89 win over New Orleans, in which Minnesota didn't play well, but defended well enough to improve to 2-0.

"Defense has carried us the last two games. I think that's a great step for this team and that's what we set out to do," Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. "Now, we just have to augment it with the other end."

The Timberwolves forced 30 turnovers — a franchise record — and held the Pelicans to 35 percent shooting, including 23 percent from deep.

Some of that was New Orleans (0-3) — one of the league's worst teams — missing shots and making errors. Devonte Graham went 2 for 14, including 1 for 10 from deep. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was 6 for 24, including 2 for 13 from 3-point range.

Still, the Timberwolves continue to bring more energy on the defensive end than they have in recent seasons, and that may have been the difference Saturday.

"We're still figuring it out as a team offensively executing, defensive rotations, we're figuring all of that out," D'Angelo Russell said. "I think playing hard is what's going to get us over the hump when games look like this. ... Just gotta stay ready, look at the film, learn from it and on to the next one."

Minnesota certainly didn't answer any call Saturday. The Wolves had a chance to respond to one great performance against Houston with another against New Orleans, and they did not. Not for 48 minutes, anyway.

After building a 15-point advantage in the first half, Minnesota collapsed in the third quarter. Russell, to quote the point guard himself, "forgot how to play basketball" for three quarters. Anthony Edwards couldn't find a rhythm. Minnesota was beat up on the glass. Karl-Anthony Towns — who scored 15 of his 25 points in the first quarter — fouled out with six minutes to play on his third offensive foul of the game.

"I look at it as good adversity for us," Russell said. "We've been working on a lot of things as a team, so tonight was a get a stop, get a rebound, keep the lead type-game at the stretch.

"Some nights it might be come back from 10 or somebody fouls out. I think every night may look different, but we just gotta learn how to attack it and know it's adversity and don't let it get us down, no matter what the outcome is."

The Wolves did still find a way. Some of the credit for that belongs to the depth. Jordan McLaughlin — who didn't play through three quarters — started the fourth and played all 12 minutes of the final frame, providing a needed spark. Naz Reid was effective Saturday, particularly when filling in for Towns down the stretch.

Russell struggled to the point where he even acknowledged it during the game with his teammates, and refused to offer any excuses for the poor play. But without Towns on the floor late, it was Russell who carried the offense down the stretch.

Russell went 2 for 10 with seven turnovers through three quarters, but went 3 for 4 for eight points — including a banked-in triple that put Minnesota up seven late to essentially seal the game. What a fitting ending it was.

"Tough night," Russell said. "But good, bad, ugly, we got it done. Gotta live with it."

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