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Wolves Lose Nail-Biter, Wiggins and Bennett Gain Experience

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The Timberwolves lost a nail-biter to the Chicago Bulls, with two-tenths of a second remaining, in a gut wrenching finish at Target Center on Saturday night. The results are both disappointing and encouraging.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Martin nailed a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Wolves a 105-104 lead over the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls. It was a clutch shot by Martin, who finished with a game-high 33 points on 9-14 shooting (including the only four 3-pointers made by the team). It still wasn't enough to seal the victory.

Jimmy Butler shook off the effects of a sprained left thumb, making his first appearance of the season after missing the first two games, and nailed a pair of free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining to beat the Wolves. Those free throws, in many respects, can be chalked up to a rookie mistake. Andrew Wiggins fell for a Butler pump fake in the closing seconds, fouling him on a desperate shot attempt.

Of course, it should be mentioned that Butler appeared to travel right before he drew the foul. Flip Saunders agreed in the post-game press conference:

"I thought the last play; I thought it was a travel. It's pretty tough to catch the ball, take two and a half steps, fall of the floor and then all of a sudden get back up. But that's the way it goes. They made the plays. They're a veteran team."

Whether it was a travel or not doesn't change the fact that Wiggins misplayed Butler, but in the big scheme of things this is a great lesson for him to learn. If he's expected to become one of the next elite defensive players in the league these are exactly the moments he must shine in. Butler got the ball with the game on the line and Wiggins' task was to keep him from scoring. Butler won the battle. The result stinks, but it's a good experience for him and part of what it means to be a rookie.

In any case, the Wolves lost the game and now sit at 1-2. The result stings given the way everything unfolded, but perhaps it shouldn't be viewed as a complete disappointment. There were encouraging aspects.

The Bulls are a top team that is still dangerous even without Rose and Gibson. Thad Young didn't play in the second half due to a neck strain near the end of the first half, yet the team fought back. The Wolves were down 14 points at the break and used defense, yes defense, to stimulate their third quarter comeback. Wiggins and Anthony Bennett helped bring the team alive during that comeback too, in a major way, playing alongside Rubio, Martin, and Pekovic.

Wiggins had a number of highlight worthy plays on the defensive end, including a two-handed blocked shot on Joakim Noah and an impressive dive for a loose ball that gained the Wolves possession, during the third quarter comeback. The #1 overall pick flashed his defensive potential along the way. He wasn't a flawless player on the night, he shot 3-10 and seemed a bit jittery in the first half, but his aggressiveness in the third quarter was a welcome sight. His presence truly lifted the team.

Bennett continued to hit on his long two's from above the free throw line. He's getting this look a ton in Flip's offense, and hopefully, just maybe, this becomes a 3-pointer at some point in time. AB finished 6-7 from the field with 12 points in 20 minutes. He started the second half in place of Young and opened up the third with four quick points to ignite the offense. For the most part, he held his own against Pau Gasol (which was impressive).

The Wolves lost another close game, an issue that plagued them last year, but they got encouraging contributions from two key young players - Wiggins and Bennett - during a big third quarter run that got them back in the game, when it easily could have gone sour on them. It was a bad ending, but an encouraging game.

Quick Notes:

  • In his first game after signing a fresh $55M contract (including $1M in incentives), Ricky Rubio had 17 assists. The Bulls had 15 as a team. Rubio had seven dimes in the first quarter alone, but fouled out late in the game and shot only 3-10 from the field in 32 minutes. He put on a passing clinic, played tough defense, and was the visible leader on the court, but it's crucial for him to get to the free throw line and he didn't have one attempt in this game. It's also crucial for him to make more shots at the rim, which he didn't do well either. He still was really good.
  • In addition to Rose (ankle), Taj Gibson also missed the game due to an ankle sprain he suffered in Friday night's overtime loss to the Cavaliers.
  • This was Kevin Martin's first start of the year and he was superb, dropping 33 points (as noted above). He scored 30+ points in seven games last season (2013-14).
  • Wiggins' playing time continues to increase. It's only been three games, but the rookie played 19 minutes in the opener at Memphis, 24 minutes against Detroit, and 31 minutes vs. Chicago. Take that for what it's worth.
  • Robbie Hummel played 11 solid minutes at the four, while Chase Budinger played 5 minutes and looked out of sync. Shabazz Muhammad went scoreless in 6 minutes of play.
  • Gorgui Dieng continued to impress with strong play. He finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds (4 offensive) in only 16 minutes of action.
  • Last season, Aaron Brooks scored 26 points in 24 minutes on 10-14 shooting, and 6-7 from deep, against the Wolves. He was playing for the Houston Rockets. Brooks continued his Wolves-trolling tonight: 16 points and 5 assists in 23 minutes. Through three games this season, he's averaging 13.3 points on 14-for-24 shooting.
  • Backup center Ronny Turiaf and second-round pick Glenn Robinson III did not suit up for the game. First round pick Zach LaVine was a DNP-CD.
  • Nikola Mirotic doesn't lack confidence on the offensive end. He had a nice 12 point, 8 rebound game off the bench and looked really comfortable on the court. The Bulls are spoiled.

  • The Wolves now go on a six-game road trip and don't play at home again until November 19th (New York Knicks) which is the longest gap between "true" home games in franchise history, according to Timberwolves PR:

Here are some of Ricky Rubio's thoughts on the game, via Timberwolves PR:

Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, on the frustration of clawing back and losing:

"We had a poor first half and we woke up in the second half and it was too late. We had a great effort and it really hurt. It really hurt losing that way. We just have to learn from that and we have to start aggressive from the beginning, especially because they were coming off a back-to-back. We had to punch first. Those opportunities don't come every night and the one tonight hurts a lot because we're going to remember this one in the future. We're young. We have to learn from that."

On having to watch the last 73 seconds from the bench:

"It hurts a lot. I let my team down. I don't know if it was a foul, but they called it so it was a foul. It let my team down and all I have to say is they did a great job at the end to win that game. It hurts. It hurts the way it happened and we just have to learn."

If you care to watch the highlights, be my guest...