MINNEAPOLIS – These are the challenging lessons any young NBA team must learn as they navigate their way through an 82 game season.
It was yet another frustrating loss at home, another game snatched away in crunch time, on a night when so many things went right for the Wolves against a superior, battle-tested Clippers squad.
"We always feel like we're in good shape, but that last minute is killing us," Zach LaVine said. "We can't learn how to pull it through."
The Clippers trailed 98-95 with one minute remaining, but DeAndre Jordan (20 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks) slammed home an alley-oop from Jamal Crawford, blocked a shot by LaVine the next possesion to get the ball back, and Blake Griffin followed up with a layup to put Los Angeles up 99-98 with 25 seconds to play.
A pivotal inbounds play came next, and the results rendered a once buzzing crowd almost speechless around Target Center as LaVine's pass deflected off Andrew Wiggins; giving the Clippers the ball back after referees reviewed the exchange and detiremined the pass indeed went off Wiggins.
Los Angeles went on to win an anticlimactic free throw battle that extended the game another 20 minutes, ultimately walking away with the 110-106 victory during another night of emotional highs and lows. The seemingly never-ending losing streak to the Clippers now sits at 14 straight games dating back to Kevin Love's unforgettable buzzer beating 3-pointer in Los Angeles in 2012.
The 4th quarter took 52 minutes to play. The final 25 seconds of the game took 20 minutes.
— Alan Horton (@WolvesRadio) December 8, 2015
"We just closed out the game," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "We executed. We got every shot. We got every stop. That's how you end games. They're young too. They're just going to keep getting better and better. And they're going to keep getting harder and harder to beat."
For now, the young Wolves will have to learn lessons the hard way.
Two days ago, Damian Lillard sealed the game with 18 seconds on the clock. On Monday night, the Wolves again walked dejectedly back to the locker room trying to figuring out where everything went wrong and how to close out games instead of letting opponents grind out wins.
Losing for the fourth consecutive game certainly stings as the team positioned themselves to exceed expectations with an 8-8 start – the results are even more disappointing when the energy inside Target Center was booming unlike any other game this season – but, all things considered, the Wolves played really well against an elite Western Conference team.
"They're an experienced team, they know how to play in those situations," Sam Mitchell said in his most cordial postgame press conference of the season.
"I remember Coach [Flip Saunders] sitting up here last year and we were talking about guys playing unmeaningful games and minutes. We had a lot of games last year where it was hard to see how much we learned because we were getting hammered pretty good. This year, we're disappointed with our record at home, but we've been in every game."
"I can count one game where we really didn't feel like we had a chance to win it," Mitchell continued with a far different attitude towards the questions being posed to him. "I ask my young guys after every game. If one of them learns something tonight about execution, about spacing, about timing, about waiting on screens and making the extra pass, then it all was worth it, because they grew tonight."
"I can take that," Mitchell concluded.
All I could think about was how refreshing his demeanor was for the first time in home game pressers this season. He was genuine. There was no ill-will demonstrated and the previous hostility towards the media was nowhere to be seen. I don't know exactly what happened, nor do I particularly care to know if specific conversations were had with him about the way he's conducting himself with the media, but listening to Mitchell embrace questions with zest was as enjoyable as Garnett's vicious slam over Griffin. The experience was entirely different.
Play of the game...
KG turned back the clock about 10 years last night when he slammed home the monster dunk over Blake Griffin. Target Center absolutely exploded with exuberance. The energy in the building carried on throughout the rest of the night. Even Nemanja Bjelica showed emotion. You know something is truly dope if "PBS" is changing his face.
KAT's reaction to KG's slam pic.twitter.com/lKWImTueE9
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 8, 2015
Karl-Anthony Towns on KG's monster slam over Blake Griffin tonight: "I felt like KG was me, and I was KG."
— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) December 8, 2015
Shabazz Muhammad finished with 13 points and nine rebounds and was beastly off the bench, bringing serious energy in 26 minutes.
"I thought I was really aggressive on the defensive glass and really helping our team out a lot," Muhammad said. "That's one thing that I really try to change in my games because I'm so big and strong [more] than other wings, so that's something that I always try to do is attack the glass."
"I thought we should have closed it out," he continued. "We've got to learn how to finish the game."
Mitchell on LaVine's play:
"I think Zach is getting better before our eyes. The thing is that we always felt like Zach could score in this league, we think in time, he's going to get better at it. The thing for a young guy that's still trying to fill out and as physical as the game is with those guards... I think Zach is starting to show a level of physicality when he's away from the ball as far as stopping guys from getting the ball when they want to and being physical and giving up his body. I'm very pleased with Zach."
LaVine dropped 21 points in 25 minutes off the bench, including one sweet change of pace sequence that I've never seen from him before, resulting in a beautiful pass to Gorgui Dieng (14 points and five rebounds) for the bucket.
LaVine on learning to win close games:
"I think we've learned enough because we have the most close games in the world I feel like, but I guess we're just not there yet. Every time you learn something, you get better from it. I always learn at practice, usually you want the win no matter what... that's how I feel sometimes. I feel we should have won this and a lot of others, but we'll keep going, we definitely will."
Gorgui Dieng on playing next to Towns:
"I think we both can shoot, so it's not a big difference if I roll, he pops, if he pops, I roll. I don't see a big difference between playing with Karl."
Dieng on playing in close games:
"It's a learning process, we're learning. I think all these teams beating us right now, we're going to catch them at some point. That's how the NBA is. We get beat up sometimes, but I think it's going to come up very soon that we're going to start catching teams."