The Triple Team: Rudy Gobert proves that a matchup is more than the box score stats by leading Jazz to 20-point win over Towns’ Timberwolves

Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder (99) guards Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) in the second half during an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz’s 120-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves from Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Andy Larsen.

1. The game is more than points

And there might not be better proof of that than Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns tonight. Gobert had a pretty pedestrian box score: 10 points, 13 rebounds, one assist. Meanwhile, Towns exploded for 26 points, 12 rebounds four assists. That’s a really big difference!

But I thought Gobert outplayed Towns anyway. I’m not saying Gobert’s teammates outplayed Towns’ teammates (though they did), not that Gobert bested Towns in their matchup; I think that Gobert played better than Towns played.

That’s because there are just so many plays where Gobert pops up in the right place while Towns doesn’t. These are the Jazz’s first three baskets of the game.

On the first one, Towns isn’t really challenging Rubio (understandable), but he’s not stopping Gobert from catching the lob either. He’s in no mans land.

On the second one, Towns is under the paint. He really should be getting in the way of Ingles just laying the ball in the basket. He doesn’t.

On the third, Towns came over and challenged. Great! He doesn’t get the ball, but that’s okay. Favors knows he’s in a bad spot, so he looks to pass it out, but can’t help but notice that Towns hasn’t really challenged him, so he just goes up and finishes over him.

It got bad enough that the Wolves tried playing zone, and the Jazz ran super simple zone plays. They hit a three, and Towns was late on the rotation. Then they ran a pretty simple lob play over... well, you can fill in the blank.

Look, I don’t mean to hate on Towns here. He’s an incredible offensive player, one of the most skilled big men we’ve ever seen. Some of his later defensive woes may have been due to foul trouble, and the Wolves’ defense certainly didn’t get better without him in there. But the difference between these two plays is a big, big difference:

But because voters apparently worship at the Church of Points, Gobert wasn’t an All-Star, and Towns was. Oh well.

2. Donovan Mitchell’s explosion

Last season, Donovan Mitchell had 42 dunks. That’s a really good number of dunks for a wing player. This year, though, he only has 23. What the dunk?

If you look at the distribution of Mitchell’s dunks, though, they’re all gobbed up at the tail end of the season. From Game 1 to 41, the first half of the season, Mitchell only had 10 dunks. In games 42 to 68, he’s had 13. If he’d dunked at the same rate for the whole season, he’d have 40 dunks, about the same as last year.

This led former Tribune Jazz beat writer Tony Jones to have a hypothesis:

When we asked Mitchell about it, he said it was more about the foot injury from the summer, and how it was still impacting the way he played at the beginning of the season.

“I think I’m more in shape. And when you think of ‘in shape,' you think wind. But it’s more so the body. With the foot, I didn’t really get to start the way I wanted to, I had a little setback," Mitchell said. “So for me, the biggest thing for next year will be starting early, so I can be at this level from the beginning and not have to wait.”

This is all an excuse to show you this dunk, which was nice, though not Donovan’s best:

“I don’t mean to sound cocky, but that wasn’t that great," he said.

3. Travel woes

For Minnesota, this was a schedule loss, even though it won’t look like one.

You see, the Wolves left their hotel in Denver at 9 a.m. MT Wednesday, trying to fly to Utah at 10 a.m.. But thanks to the “bomb cyclone” that hit the Midwest, no flights were leaving the airport whatsoever. The Wolves hung out in a room at the airport or waited on the plane for nearly 12 hours, they said, before finally everyone just gave up and they returned to their hotel rooms in Denver at about 9 p.m.

They were able to fly to SLC the next morning, getting in about 8 hours before the game.

That makes it really hard to play! They didn’t get a shootaround, nor did they get to work out yesterday. And sure, the Jazz had to play yesterday, but at least they got to sleep in their beds at 1:30, not so bad. Then when you add in Minnesota’s injury report — Robert Covington, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and Jeff Teague all were out due to various injuries — the Wolves had to play a thin roster on very little rest or preparation. No wonder their defense wasn’t much more than a bump in the road by game time.

The Nets should be a much sterner test on Saturday.