The Timberwolves offense struggled at times without Karl-Anthony Towns in the lineup on Wednesday, but they still beat the Grizzlies because they forced 27 turnovers.
If there's a formula for the Wolves to win enough games with Towns out of the lineup to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race, Wednesday might have been the start of it.
The Wolves will still have plenty of defensive talent on the floor on a nightly basis.
Rudy Gobert with his three Defensive Player of the Year awards is still there. Jaden McDaniels, the team's best perimeter defender, is close to a return from an illness. Anthony Edwards can be a good on-ball defender; he just needs to stay focused when playing off the ball. Kyle Anderson started in place of Towns and has posted positive defensive win shares each season of his career.
There might be nights the offense is in quicksand with Towns off the floor, but the Wolves' defense has less of an excuse to slack with Towns out several weeks because of a right calf strain.
Before Towns got hurt, the Wolves were on a three-game losing streak in part because their ability to contain dribble penetration had lagged. That's a quality that should be better whether Towns is available or not. It was Wednesday.
"There was urgency just because we had looked at the film and how bad we had gotten defensively," coach Chris Finch said. "All credit to the guys for recognizing that. We went back to the drawing board and got a chance to tighten some things up with our core defense."
Edwards credited the more active scheme with his strong night (five steals) on the defensive end of the floor. Finch said the Wolves were more concentrated on having people cover the "low man" role at the rim instead of relying on Gobert to always cover that spot.
"It allows us to get going," Edwards said. "Because sometimes we might be in a drop [coverage] and I might just be ball-watching and get cut back door, but if I know we're in a wall, I know we've got rotations to make. We've got to be on the fly. We can't be stopping and going. We've just got to keep going. So it's dope."
Finch said the Wolves had been relying too much on Gobert to clean up mistakes at the rim.
"Rudy was always our low man, but we got back into having low man be whoever was there and not always trying to get Rudy there because sometimes it's not possible," Finch said. "We had developed a lot of bad habits through that process."
The Wolves have to get to a point where the scheme they play doesn't matter; they should be able to play with the same intensity on a nightly basis.
"I feel like guys will tell you that scheme inspired activity," Anderson said. "But we got to be able to find a way to be able to have activity in whatever coverage we're in. I think for some guys, they'll tell you, 'Yeah, the scheme helps me,' but the good teams find a way to be active regardless."
And to do it on a consistent basis. That has eluded the Wolves on that end of the floor. To get by without Towns, they have to achieve that.
"It's tough. It's not easy. Everyone just has to be bought in," Anderson said. "You're seeing it around the locker room, we want to be better defensively. We're trying to put the work in. We're learning. The good teams are going to do it and we're hoping to turn that corner."