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Nuggets 102, Wolves 99: Apocalypse Dreams

“That third quarter is just haunting us right now,” Andrew Wiggins admitted afterwards.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Thibodeau’s first serious challenge with the Wolves became clear after another close loss at home to the Nuggets.

In the fourth game of the season, the Wolves once again entered halftime with a lead only to blow it in the third quarter to give their opponent life, and confidence to steal the win. Instead of pushing their foot down on the pedal to speed up their playoff pursuit, the Wolves faltered again in the same exact way. For the third time in this young season, defeat came at the hands of another lackluster third quarter performance dominated by iso-heavy offense and undisciplined defense.

“That third quarter is just haunting us right now,” Andrew Wiggins admitted afterwards.

At 1-3, with a total margin of defeat of only 10 points, the kryptonite has exposed itself. The players might think the 12-year playoff drought talk is old news but they’re going to hear a lot about the third quarter woes in the coming days and that’s going to get as old as they allow it to. The only hope is that hearing the same comments over and over again will lead to growth in the coming weeks and months. The question now becomes: will this early season crux come to define this year’s team?

In short, the Wolves flat-out stink in the third quarter right now. And that’s the nice way of saying it. They were outscored 26-16 at The Grindhouse in Memphis. At Sacramento’s beautiful new Golden 1 Center arena, the 31-12 onslaught that ensued after halftime was pitiful and frustrating and annoying more than anything. Then there was tonight at Target Center where they led by six at the break only to trot out for another lifeless, entirely irritating and ineffective 1-on-1 offensive performance combined with an utterly disheartening defensive showing that saw them get abused 33-14 in the third.

It was another wretched third quarter and now Thibs, the rest of the coaching staff, and players are left to face the criticism. -48 in third quarters in their three losses by 10 total points.

I felt like Apocalypse Dreams should have been playing ever so quietly in the background, almost to narrate the madness at Target Center, as I stared blankly into the upper deck, much like Zach LaVine looks to be doing in the main photo above.

I could almost hear Kevin Parker singing in my head.

This could be the day that we push through

Did I really want it?

Does it really matter?

It was only yesterday

It could be the day that all our dreams come true

Didn't even know you

Now I'm gonna miss you

Oh it feels so real in my sleep, never felt so good, so close I do

Nothing ever changes

No matter how long you do your hair

It's the same to everyone else

Everything is changing

Apocalypse Dreams is the third track on Tame Impala’s Lonerism and the song represents this uncertain feeling about the future where you’re not in control of so many situations and circumstances, which only adds to the uncertainty; things are changing beyond control. Maybe we should just accept the change for whatever it is.

This is a key concept in Lonerism, as Kevin Parker explains (via Genius):

This album is like someone growing up and just realizing their place is not involved with the rest of the world...someone trying to figure out where their place amongst everyone else is, and having a really confusing time with it and then slowly accepting that it’s in their blood just to be a solitary wanderer.

I could tell you about Towns going for 32 points and 14 rebounds like a beast, or about Andrew Wiggins dropping 25 points, along with one delicious Maple Step—the Canadian Euro-step for new readers.

I could tell you about Nemanja Bjelica having his best game of the year with 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter. I could tell you the Wolves ran an excellent play to get Belly a 3-pointer at the buzzer that just went in and out. I could tell you about Tyus Jones stepping up and running the offense in the fourth quarter comeback—which gave them a chance to steal the win—and how the Wolves should definitely not trade him.

I could tell you about Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler bringing it off the bench, or about Gorgui Dieng’s terrible game offensively, or how Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic are awesome young centers, or how Emmanuel Mudiay should stop settling for jumpers and start attacking the rim relentlessly and actually use his size and speed to his advantage.

I could tell you how Kris Dunn was simply magical in the first quarter and how he looked like the rookie of the year so many people predicted before the season.

I could tell you how Denver’s physicality and elite transition defense kept the Wolves from winning the game.

I could tell you all of these things that contributed to the final result. But the real takeaway is that the Wolves are still very much in the phase of finding themselves and figuring out their place in the NBA this season. They are no longer solitary wanderers, though they are still going through confusing times that bring on the same tiring comments like “nothing ever changes.”

Everything is changing though, and the Wolves are growing up in front of our eyes whether we like the way it’s happening or not. Now, Thibodeau’s biggest challenge will be eliminating the relaxed nature of the team in third quarters. He must change their mindset; 36 minutes doesn’t cut it in this league and they all know that.

“We keep building great leads and it seems like we keep having half the puzzle done and we don’t finish the puzzle,” Towns said afterwards. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing board tomorrow. We have a great opponent in OKC and we’ve got to make sure we’re totally ready and we’ve got to finish the puzzle.”

The good news is this: under Thibs, nothing is changing beyond control. While his first challenge—to keep the team completely locked in even with big leads—might not be passed over night, they’re simply too talented to sit back and accept defeat in the name of awful third quarters.