The quarter that had served as the Timberwolves’ bugaboo for much of the season was Minnesota’s savior Wednesday night in New Orleans.
Trailing the Pelicans by six at the half, Minnesota utilized its best third quarter of the season to blow past the Pelicans for a 111-102 win on the road and a much-needed victory to start a challenging slate.
The Wolves outscored New Orleans 39-21 in a third frame they could not have drawn up any better. The Wolves went 14 for 22 from the field in the third, while New Orleans was a paltry 7 for 19.
“Third quarter was obviously the key,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told reporters after the game. “I felt really good at halftime, I just said, ‘There’s a lot of really good offense out there, we just haven’t found our rhythm yet.’ We really stepped up defensively, got out and ran, but created a lot of good looks for each other.”
Anthony Edwards said the Wolves knew they were “crazy” defensively in the first half, with their feet seemingly stuck in mud.
“So we knew we had to pick it up in the second half,” Edwards said in his postgame on-court interview. “That’s what we did, we got a lot of stops and we converted off them.”
D’Angelo Russell got the charge started with a couple of 3-pointers to trim the Wolves’ deficit from eight points to two early in the frame — a needed jolt to Minnesota’s system. From there, it was all Edwards. The third-year guard, who’s in the midst of a late charge for an all-star bid, scored 14 of his 37 points in the quarter.
Finch loved the way Edwards scored within the flow of the game. He was the conductor of a ferocious fast-break offense on a night in which the Wolves bested New Orleans 18-4 in transition points.
“That’s something that we’ve been imploring him to do more of — just go, go, go,” Finch said. “In transition, he’s pretty much unstoppable there.”
Edwards has eclipsed 30 points in three straight contests.
“I come in here knowing what my guys need me to do. I tell them to trust me, and I’m going to get it done every time,” he said.
Kyle Anderson came to life after a couple of rough performances against Houston to tally 10 points and seven assists. Per usual, Anderson was the primary conductor on all good things that came Rudy Gobert’s way. He found Gobert on a couple of brilliant feeds en route to the big man’s 17-point, 12-rebound showing.
Minnesota (25-25) led by as many as 17 points in the second half as New Orleans (26-23) briefly unraveled amid complaints about the officiating. The Pelicans accumulated three technicals in a span of seconds, including two on coach Willie Green that sent him to the locker room early.
But that flurry of frustration seemed to spark the Pelicans, who were able to get within four points in the final 2 minutes, but that was all the closer they’d get. Jaden McDaniels hit a pair of big jumpers — a mid-range shot in isolation and an open triple from the wing — to help put the contest on ice.
“We needed somebody to make one,” Finch said. “We got a lot of really good looks in the last five minutes of that game, just didn’t go down for us. … We desperately needed somebody to make a shot right there, and it’s good to see.”
Finch said McDaniels returned to form Wednesday in terms of playing his complete game after a couple of somewhat lackluster defensive showings against Houston.
“Big dog, J-Mac, tall J-Mac, Jaden, slim, whatever you want to call him, he’s ‘Him,’ ” Edwards said.
New Orleans — once a lock to finish with a top-four seed in the West and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs — has now lost six straight games. Zion Williamson remains out for the Pelicans, but Brandon Ingram returned from injury Wednesday after a lengthy absence. He struggled mightily, however, going 4 for 17 from the field and finishing with 13 points and four turnovers.
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