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Wolves can't close out Clippers, lose at home, 110-105

The Wolves lost a highly competitive contest on Monday night, but played hard and shouldn't be disappointed by the way they performed.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves started slow, struggled to defend and didn't execute well enough down the stretch to capture a victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.

"We run out of gas." Wolves head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said postgame.

"Sometimes, when you fall behind by that much, you have to exert so much energy to get back in the game that, when you go back to get that extra fuel, you don't have that extra energy left to rely on."

Los Angeles seemed to make everything as they jumped out to an early, 36-23, lead after the opening frame. Spearheading the attack, Chris Paul tallied 10 points and 8 assists, DeAndre Jordan grabbed 6 rebounds and J.J. Reddick knocked down two 3-point shots--the Clippers shot over 60 percent from the field. It isn't that the Wolves weren't playing solid defense, they just seemed to be having (another) one of those nights.

I don't think we competed early on," Kevin Garnett said after the game, "but as the game went on we got a lot more competitive, a lot more gritty, started executing a little bit."

Without Blake Griffin and Matt Barnes, trying to get some of his players rest at the end of a lengthy road trip, Clippers coach Doc Rivers went to--and stayed with--his bench in the second quarter. This plan may have backfired. Austin Rivers was terribly ineffective; Jamal Crawford, albeit he scored 9 points, seemed unlike his usual, energetic self and Glen 'Big Baby' Davis committed more fouls than he scored points. 'Doc' watched what was at one time an 18 point lead slip away before halftime.

The Wolves, meanwhile, were without Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, two key cogs that have missed significant time thus far this season. Saunders relied on heavy minutes from starters Gary Neal, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng and Andrew Wiggins. But he would receive a spark from Zach LaVine as the 19 year old rookie played all 12 minutes of the second frame, igniting the crowd with a few dunks in transition en route to 10 points and 3 assists. Adrian Payne added 6 points on 2-of-3 shooting, and the home club got some love from the fans as they entered the locker room at the halfway mark ahead of Los Angeles, 60-58.

Both teams stagnated offensively after halftime. In the spot start, Neal kept the Wolves afloat during the third quarter by scoring 9 points on 4-of-7 attempts from the field. Saunders made it a point to remind the media that he never planned on buying out Neal's contract, and seems happy to have the four year veteran around the clubhouse.

Los Angeles eventually clamped down on the defensive end, limiting the relentless Wolves to just one made field goal throughout the final frame. Still, Saunders' players continued to be aggressive by attacking the basket and, despite the abysmal shooting performance, were rewarded with trips to the charity stripe. The Wolves made 10 of their 11 free throws in the fourth quarter.

Down by three with just 9.3 seconds to play, Saunders stuck with the hot hand and designed a play for Neal to try and tie the game with a 3-pointer. It fell short, and the Clippers escaped with a 110-105 victory.

The Wolves played hard, but not well enough to win and, as the story has been all season, injuries kept them from performing at their best. It's a tired, cyclical process for many fans, watching this team try to keep healthy, but there was an undeniable energy within Target Center on Monday night. And there's something to be said for that.

You know what, man? I'm taking this. I like our fight. I don't think we competed early on, but as the game went on we got a lot more competitive, a lot more gritty, started executing a little bit. You gotta understand, we're playing these teams that have been together six, seven years, man. This group has been together, what? About 30 seconds. - Kevin Garnett