San Antonio was closing the gap. Minnesota’s 22-3 run to open Thursday’s game was quickly dissipating. The Spurs were trailing by just seven late in the first half and threatening to cut further into the Timberwolves’ advantage before intermission.
Spurs star guard Dejounte Murray ran a pick and roll that left him attacking the rim against Wolves forward Jarred Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt rode Murray as he got into the lane. Then the Spurs guard was met by Karl-Anthony Towns.
Per usual, that left the player Towns was guarding, Jakob Poeltl, free for what appeared to be an easy layup. But as Poeltl caught the pass and rose up for the short shot, he was met by Vanderbilt, who had moved over quickly enough to swat the shot away.
Minnesota grabbed the loose ball off the block and took off in transition as Vanderbilt went to the floor. The Wolves found D’Angelo Russell in transition for an open look at a 3-pointer. It didn’t fall, but out of nowhere came Vanderbilt, sprinting down from the other end of the floor to grab the offensive rebound. Two passes later, Malik Beasley ended up with an open triple. Splash.
What should have been a five-point lead grew to 10 on the strength of two of Vanderbilt’s patented “multiple effort” plays. San Antonio went from nearly spoiling a great first half from Minnesota by eating up the entire gap to trailing by 13 at the break and never seriously threatened from there as the Wolves cruised to a 25-point victory.
“Those are just game-winning plays,” Vanderbilt said. “Me, personally, I can kind of sense when a run is coming, so I try to make a big stop or get that extra possession. I look at it as being the possessions guy, trying to limit opportunities for the other team and create more for my team. That was a big stretch. … In hindsight, it helped us, helped stop their run and got us going, as well.”
The same was true in Minnesota’s victory over the Lakers last weekend. Describing the third quarter in which the Wolves out-scored Los Angeles 40-12, Timberwolves coach Chris Finch first mentioned Vanderbilt, noting he was “really, really good.”
The Wolves are at their best when they’re flying around the court. The catalyst of those efforts is almost always the 22-year-old power forward. In Thursday’s win over San Antonio, the Wolves outscored the Spurs by 28 points in Vanderbilt’s 28 minutes. Last week, Patrick Beverley said Vanderbilt is “un-stat-able.”
Vanderbilt said he’s simply trying to do whatever is necessary to help the Wolves win. It’s always his hope that his effort becomes contagious. That has been the case in recent games.
“You can’t key in exactly what it is that he does well, but when he’s out there, he’s always providing an impactful energy with impacting winning,” Beverley said. “He’s been doing it all season for us and we need him to do it and we need him to do it all the time. He’s been fun to play with and he takes a lot of pressure off the guards defensively.
“He guards guards, he guards bigs, he doesn’t complain. He gets beat up in the paint and he gets some tough calls all the time, but he doesn’t complain. … Real basketball players understand a player like that. You appreciate he’s on your team, for sure.”