MINNEAPOLIS – Andrew Wiggins scored 27 points on 15 shots (8-11 from the line) on Tuesday night. Similar to the home win over the Sixers last week, Wiggins did his best to carry the Wolves' offense on his shoulders on a night where nothing seemed to go right in the opening quarter.
But he ended up missing the second of two free throws that would have tied the score with 5.6 seconds left and his late 3-point attempt out of the timeout was tipped by Aaron Gordon, ultimately sealing the Wolves' fate.
The 96-93 loss sends them to 2-7 at home on the season in what was another winnable game that slipped away in the end, though doomed by a slow start. "We've been close a lot of the games at home," Wiggins said. "Every game has been close. We just haven't closed the games out how you want to close them out."
Wiggins was correct in saying the team hasn't closed out games at Target Center and nobody is going to dispute that point. His second thought, however, was an exceedingly more accurate, and concise, description of the results.
"We put ourselves in that position in the first half," Wiggins said.
Indeed, they did. There was no life in the first quarter as the Wolves missed 12 of their first 14 shots to start the game. Their nine first half turnovers were a collection of errant passes and poor, confused offensive execution. Early in the game, Rubio ferociously screamed "Let's Go" loud enough to be heard around the lower bowl while trying to awake the snoozing offense and give the silent hometown fans something to cheer about.
The Wolves made the game interesting at the end, but their putrid start was really the death of them. Orlando led 21-14 after the first, 54-41 at halftime, and pushed the lead to 17 in the third quarter. The Wolves ended up finding their rhythm in the second half, tying the game with 4:30 left to play as Wiggins, Kevin Martin, Gorgui Dieng and the bench spurred the comeback.
"Yeah, we should have come out stronger in this game," Zach LaVine, who struggled from deep (0-5) and finishing through contact at the rim on his way to a 3-11 shooting night, said afterwards. "They already beat us, so that should have been the edge to come out there and put it to them. It didn't happen ... a little bit too late."
Orlando has now won four straight games and nine of their last 13 after starting the season 1-4.
"I don't want to say we would have [lost a game like this last year], but it's a possibility," point guard Elfrid Payton said. "It shows how much we've grown as a team."
Victor Oladipo finished with 13 points off the bench for the Magic as the move by Scott Skiles to use him as the sixth man is paying off thus far since the switch four games ago.
"It just shows that we've grown up," Oladipo said. "I feel like last year we would have lost that game, so we're growing up a lot, we've just got to build on it."
Wolves' interim head coach Sam Mitchell bemoaned the teams offense once again. "We didn't make shots again," Mitchell said. "We're moving the ball, we're getting open looks. We didn't make shots."
He continued: "We shot 37% again. How many games this year out of 18 have we shot below 40%? I would say at least six or seven and it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. You can't make a mistake and you can't foul. It's just a lot of pressure. For us to be 8-10 and shooting the way we're shooting, it's tough."
No Towns in the fourth, again
For the third time in the last four contests, rookie sensation Karl-Anthony Towns didn't see the court in the fourth quarter. In Los Angeles on Sunday, he only re-entered the game with 2:42 remaining when it had already been decided.
"Man, don't come ask me that question," Mitchell responded to a media member who asked about Towns' 22 minutes after the game. "Ask me a question about the game. Don't ask me a question about playing time."
Dieng was really good throughout the game, and that shouldn't be ignored when assessing the decision by Mitchell to keep Towns sitting on the bench in the fourth in this one, but was he wildly outplaying Towns in previous games when the same path was chosen? Probably not.
This was perhaps the most defensible usage of Dieng over Towns, who was not playing well whatsoever, and victories over Atlanta and Sacramento also made the move easier to justify afterwards.
Still, not seeing KAT play in fourth quarters has become a mysterious trend over the past week as Dieng has become the de facto 'closer' at center for Mitchell, who wants to ride the hot hand instead of throwing Towns into the fire as Flip Saunders did over and over again last season with Wiggins and LaVine.
Towns needs to play in crunch time situations for his confidence right now, along with the growth of his game and the franchise in the coming years.
Karl Anthony-Towns minutes the last 5 games: 22,26,21,22,19. Prior to that 16 pts 10 rebs 52% FG 30 mins Did I miss something?— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) December 2, 2015
Karl-Anthony Towns has a PER of 21.07 which puts him in an elite class of rookie players with 20+ PER in history pic.twitter.com/V53gFRDOVl— Jim Petersen (@JimPeteHoops) December 1, 2015
Mitchell ended another game with the trio plenty of fans have been wanting to see. Rubio, LaVine, and Wiggins shared the court for the last 5:54 of the game. It was another instance of Mitchell using the three on the floor together in crunch time, bringing about the same question that's been on my mind: Why aren't we seeing this three-man lineup more often during the course of games?
When the time comes to choose the best five-man lineup to close the game, Mitchell puts these three on the floor together, but he isn't comfortably doing it for long stretches at any other point. Where's the sense in that?
It's about time, as I wrote here, to put this trio into effect for larger stretches throughout the entire contest. And to my point above, the franchises two cornerstone players need to be playing and learning when the game is on the line more often than not. Everybody can understand one game where Towns is struggling and Dieng is clearly outperforming him, like tonight, but three games in a row now? These are crucial experiences Towns is missing out on.
Notes (via Timberwolves_PR)
- Wiggins has now led the Timberwolves in scoring in 11 of his last 13 games, averaging 24.6 points per game during the stretch.
- Tonight was Wiggins' seventh game of the season with 10+ attempted free throws. Only James Harden (12) and DeMarcus Cousins (9) have more games this season.
- Kevin Garnett played 20:25 minutes tonight, surpassing Jason Kidd (50,110) for third place on the NBA all-time list. Only Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (57,446) and Karl Malone (54,852) have played more minutes in NBA history
- Garnett grabbed six defensive rebounds tonight, increasing his career total to 11,397. He is 10 defensive rebounds from passing Karl Malone (11,406) to become the NBA's all-time leader in the category, which became an official statistic in 1973. He also needs five points to join 14 other players in the 26,000-point club
- Minnesota blocked 11 shots tonight, the second-highest total of the season. The Wolves have reached double-digit blocks in two games this year, both against Orlando (13 blocks at Orlando, Nov. 18).
- Kevin Martin finished with 16 points tonight, rebounding from scoring just 16 points over his last three games combined. Martin was 2-of-2 from three-point range after hitting only four of his last 20 entering the night.
- Nikola Vucevic finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds tonight, his seventh double-double of the season.
- Andrew Nicholson finished with 15 points, on 6-of-11 shooting tonight, his third double-digit scoring outing of the season.