SALT LAKE CITY — Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns was frustrated. Rudy Gobert seems to have that effect on the people he guards.
With 4:13 left, Towns appeared to have had enough. Had enough of the long arms in his face, enough of Gobert staying down on pump fakes, and enough of things being made difficult by the Jazz center. So Towns just lowered his shoulder and rammed it right into Gobert’s chest.
That was Towns’ final play of the game. He was called for his sixth and eliminating foul. And the image of him leaving the court early was much more indicative of how the battle between him and Gobert went on Thursday then the final stat lines.
Yes, Towns scored 26 points. He hit three 3-pointers. He pulled down 12 rebounds. And he even had four assists. But it was Gobert — even with a line of just 10 points and 13 rebounds — who won the battle down low. And that was seen clearly on the final scoreboard.
Utah defeated Minnesota 120-100 on Thursday night at Vivint Arena to improve to 39-29 on the season. It was Utah’s second straight win after losing three of four.
Donovan Mitchell scored 24 points (8-for-17 shooting) — including a tomahawk dunk in the closing minutes that put the finishing touches on the win — and six assists to lead the Jazz. Jae Crowder added 18 points and Derrick Favors had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
“We won the game,” Gobert said. “To me, that’s all that matters. He’s a very talented player. It’s always a big challenge for me. But I think we did a great job as the team. And we won the game by 20. I think we did pretty good.”
Gobert used “we” because he has never been to get caught up in individual matchups. It doesn’t matter who it is — Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Towns or anyone else — Gobert puts the focus on what his team is doing. That’s why Utah coach Quin Snyder thinks he excels against some of the best big men in the league.
“The biggest thing I can say about that matchup is it’s not about Rudy and KAT,” Snyder said. “... When we are not just leaving one guy to guard somebody because you can’t guard him with one guy. Whether that was Jae or Faves (Derrick Favors) or all those guys. As much as we don’t make it about a singular matchup, particularly for Rudy, that's when we are good.”
And the Jazz were good on Thursday. Especially late.
After the Timberwolves got within one point at 71-70, Utah immediately went on an 8-0 run to take back control of the game.
"Once you play some defense, it'll lead to offense and change the whole game," Crowder said. "We were able to get stops, get out and run and open up the whole court while frustrating those guys."
And that was seen in the final quarter when Utah blitzed Minnesota, outscoring the Wolves 29-19 in the final frame.
“We hung for a while, you know, hung tough,” Minnesota interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “We found some things. Then (in the) fourth quarter, we had a tough time scoring.”
A couple of things may have contributed to that. First, the Wolves were stuck in Denver all night due to a winter storm and didn’t arrive in Salt Lake City until Thursday morning, forcing the Minnesota players to change routines. And while that probably played a role in some of it, the more likely explanation was Gobert and the Jazz defense.
“We are playing defense,” Gobert said. “It’s good. At this time of the year, we just want to keep getting better and defending at a high level as we can do. I think the last couple games have been good for us.”