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A Third Quarter Funk in Minnesota

Blowing big leads in the third has become the Wolves specialty early this season.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Wolves are in a deep third quarter funk right now. They are far and away the worst third quarter team in the league, and it’s holding them back.

Blowing big leads in the third has become the Wolves specialty early this season. There are always unique characteristics that come to define each team, and the Wolves’ deplorable play coming out of halftime is their most glaring trait. It’s effectively kept them from validating the hype. Basketball Reference lists their expected record at 6-4, which would have grabbed the attention of the entire NBA.

“Every game we play is close,” Andrew Wiggins says after the loss at Target Center on Tuesday. “It comes down to the wire. Look at our record, the record could easily be flipped with a change in the third quarter.”

Indeed, a change in the third is well beyond necessary. Here are the Wolves’ net ratings per quarter, according to

1st: +19.4 (3rd)

2nd: +22.9 (2nd)

3rd: -37.0 (last by a mile)

4th: +4.6 (13th)

Total: +2.5 (10th in the NBA, surrounded by numerous teams with 6-7 wins)

It’s no secret what is haunting them right now and holding them back from making any noise. For now, the pre-season hype has died down as the third quarter blues linger. The team remains extremely frustrated with the results.

“It seems like we’re not learning, and we got to figure out what’s going on,” Ricky Rubio said after the most recent third quarter shellacking dealt by the Charlotte Hornets two days ago.

In front of the home crowd, the Wolves were again destroyed in the third, leaving them to scramble back in the fourth. They lost the 12 point lead they had at halftime ridiculously quick. In fact, at one point, Charlotte took a 12 point lead of their own in the third.

“It’s on us. It’s on the players,” Rubio continues, clearly frustrated by another loss fueled by the team’s streak of miserable third quarters.

“We’re doing the right thing. The system is working in the first half. It’s not like the system is not working, it’s just us thinking selfish sometimes. Thinking about ourselves before winning. Like I said, we will be better if we win games, not if you put more points on the board by yourself. This is a team game; when we shine is when your team is winning.”

“It’s frustrating,” Rubio admits. “I’ve been here five years, and this is my sixth. This is the best team I’ve ever been around. I get mad thinking that we’re wasting time. We’re not learning. It’s time to change.”

Tom Thibodeau was understandably irritable during his postgame presser after the loss on Tuesday night.

“It’s the commitment to improve and to learn, to not repeat the same mistakes over and over again,” Thibodeau said. “A big part of learning is trial and error, so when you go through something and it doesn’t work you should learn from it. The second time around it shouldn’t be the same way. That has to change, and it has to change fast.”

Youth can longer be the go-to excuse for losing either, according to Thibodeau. It’s time to correct the mistakes.

“We could use youth as an excuse forever, your opponent doesn’t care that you’re young. We’ve got guys who’ve been in the league for a while now. We’re making mistakes that never should be made—from fouling jump shooters, reckless passes, turnovers—and it’s all decision making.”

Hero Ball

The buzz word after the most recent loss was hero ball. Everyone was using the term to describe the issues at hand. The Wolves are stagnant offensively coming out of halftime. The ball stops moving, iso-heavy hero ball begins, and in turn the defense completely falls apart, both in transition (really ugly) and in halfcourt sets (also terrible).

It’s been the same old, tiring script each time.

“I think everyone is trying to be a hero, and that’s not working so we have to change it and play team basketball,” Gorgui Dieng says. “Move the ball and whoever scores, scores—especially the guards that know the ball is going to go through their hands. There’s no rush. Let the game come to you. Sooner or later, you are going to finish with the ball so you might as well just be patient. When it’s time to get your shot, you get your shot.”

Rubio also talked about the hero ball that’s bogging down the Wolves offense in the third. “We have a lot of talent, we know we can score,” Rubio says.

“But if we don’t play as a team, it’s a waste of talent. We tried to play hero ball at one point when things are not working. It should be the other way. It should be playing as a team, playing better. I got to start doing a better job running the team in the third quarter. Guys got to start thinking about the plays more, about the shot before. Like I said, the plays are working. It’s not like something is wrong. The first half is great and it’s just because we’re moving the ball [inaudible].”

What are the cornerstones thinking?

Andrew Wiggins is in the middle of a breakout third season in Minneapolis, currently tied for ninth in scoring with DeMarcus Cousin at 26.6 points per game. His true shooting percentage has gone from .543 last season to .577 through 10 games. Wiggins believes the team is too cool coming out of halftime.

“I think we get too cool. We come out too cool. We see the score, we see we’re up, so we have a cushion, but any good team is going to make that run in the third. We can either make that run and push the lead to 20 and the game is over, or they can make that run to make it close again.”

But like Gorgui Dieng said after the loss to Charlotte, talk is cheap at this point. The team can either fix the problem or let the third quarter woes hold them back. Wiggins agrees with the sentiment.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he says. “I can sit here all day and talk to you about how much better we need to get in the third quarter but until we go out there and prove it, it don’t mean nothing.”

Meanwhile, the other franchise cornerstone in Minneapolis is taking all of the blame for the disastrous third quarter showings.

“I just have to play better,” Karl-Anthony Towns says after losing to the Hornets on his 21st birthday. “All these losses, they fall on me. It’s something I’ve got to control. It’s something that I’ve got to be able to help us as much as possible. I’m just not doing enough for us and I’ve got to do better.”

The third quarter funk in Minnesota has come to define their first 10 games, but if there is any reason to be optimistic, it’s probably the most identifiable issue in the past 12 years. “It’s something we got to figure out,” Rubio adds. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m telling you it’s no fun. It’s frustrating.”

The Wolves are a good team currently being held back by apocalyptic third quarter performances. Correcting the dreary post-halftime execution remains Thibodeau’s first serious challenge in Minnesota and if they want to rise in the West, they must ditch this negative trend.