‘He is the offense’: Rudy Gobert’s size the difference as Minnesota out-lasts Golden State

Anthony Edwards is the best player on the Timberwolves’ roster, hands down.

But, on different nights, different players throughout the squad may prove to be Minnesota’s most valuable player.

And, against Golden State, Minnesota’s most valuable player might just be Rudy Gobert.

The Warriors played hard and well Sunday in Minneapolis. They had a strong defensive game plan designed to make life difficult on Anthony Edwards. They were sharp offensively.

Those are all things Golden State — an aging team that still sports a strong championship pedigree — can bring on any given night, which might make the Warriors a scary potential first-round playoff opponent for some teams, should they slither through the play-in round.

But as well as Golden State plays on any night against Minnesota, there isn’t much it can do to compensate for Rudy Gobert.

Gobert dominated numerous facets of Minnesota’s 114-110 home victory Sunday over the Warriors. The big man finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

He was a massive player in the team’s clutch-time offense, from a tip dunk off a Mike Conley miss to put the team up three with 3 minutes, 42 seconds to play to, on the ensuing possession, blocking out Conley’s defender so he could bury an open triple.

“He’s going to get us open when we need it late in the game,” Conley said. “We talked about it after the game, but I had a layup where I just tried to get it up on the rim. Either it goes in or it doesn’t, it’s like an alley oop. We’ve done that a lot, and we’re getting back to it, lately.”

Gobert’s size is something Golden State has to try to overcompensate for, which leaves Golden State exposed in other areas. On Sunday, his mere presence helped free up shooters, and Minnesota capitalized by going 21 for 40 from deep.

Naz Reid hit six triples, Edwards his four, and Conley and Nickeil Alexander-Walker each hit three.

“He is the offense,” Conley said of Gobert. “For the most part, guys don’t recognize that. But the gravity he has from just not even setting a screen, just rolling down the middle of the floor creates a 2 on 1 for us.”

Gobert said in the first half Sunday, he felt he was holding screens for too long. Eventually, he adjusted to get to his dive quicker.

“Once I fixed that, it was really pulling everybody in on defense, and then Ant, Mike and everyone did a great job of finding the shooters in the corners, and the guys did a great job of knocking them down,” Gobert said. “I think when we find that type of force offensively, it puts the defense in a tough spot, they have to make tough decisions. And if they don’t help on the roll, it’s usually gonna be dunks for me, rather than leaving the three.”

That’s what happened in the fourth where, after Minnesota’s outside shooting barrage, Gobert was able to find more space. He capitalized to the tune of 10 points in the final frame.

“He was pretty dominant in there, I thought,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “He stays patient. I think that’s what he’s really developed this year is his patience when the ball is not in his hands. It’s better spacing, picking his moments to duck in, picking his moments to crash at the right time. Guys trust him when he’s rolling through the pocket. That to me has been the biggest difference in his offensive game between this year and last year.”

Defensively, Minnesota held Golden State to just 48 percent shooting in the paint. Golden State was hyper aggressive getting into the paint, but Gobert — per usual — was a major deterrent.

Sunday’s certainly didn’t come easily. Minnesota was chasing for much of the night. The Wolves started the game sloppy against a desperate Warriors team clinging to the final play-in spot in the West. That led to 13 first-half turnovers.

“We started that game trying to fight the way they were guarding us,” Finch said. “It didn’t work.”

But Reid’s early offense kept Minnesota within striking distance while the Wolves waited to calm down. Eventually, the Wolves found their composure and raised their intensity to match Golden State’s. Minnesota trailed by eight late in the third quarter, but the Wolves pounced once Steph Curry went to the bench.

The Wolves outscored Golden State by 12 in the 11 minutes in which Curry sat and held an eight-point advantage when the star guard re-entered. But the Warriors hung around long enough to make it an execution contest in the closing minutes.

Neither team has proven particularly adept in clutch time this season, but Minnesota’s defense stood up, generating some key stops, including a forced miss on a potential tying 3-point attempt from Klay Thompson with five seconds to play. Kyle Anderson was blanketed on Thompson on the in-bounds play that assistant coach Micah Nori identified in the timeout ahead of the in bounds.

“Micah a genius, dog,” Edwards said.

Edwards, who led Minnesota with 23 points, sealed the game with a free-throw on the other end, as Minnesota completed a season sweep of Golden State with the victory. As long as Gobert is on the floor, the Warriors may perennially have a difficult time topping the Timberwolves.

Even if it’s not recognized, his offensive impact may have just as much to do with that as the defensive end.

“I think right now I’m at a point where I don’t care about being recognized, just try to win,” Gobert said. “And eventually, one day, somebody is going to be like, ‘maybe he does something right’. But I’m just focused on winning. And my teammates know, people that know, know.”