MINNEAPOLIS — Another one bites the dust. And another one's gone, and another one's gone. In other words, the Wolves lost to Sacramento at Target Center on Friday night, 109-105, after leading by seven points heading to the fourth quarter.
Where do we begin? Well, this was a familiar feeling in a season full of games that have been there for the taking but find a way to slip right through their fingers.
“Very [disheartening] from start to finish,” Tom Thibodeau said about his team’s showing. “Seven-point lead going into the fourth with the ball. When we need to play our best, we play our worst.”
Thibs was particularly upset with the defensive effort tonight, in a game where the Wolves pretty much let the Kings get whatever they wanted offensively.
“We didn’t take anything away,” he said.
“An offensive team, we were trying to outscore them. We gave them everything; we gave them the paint, we gave them the three, we lacked discipline, we didn’t read the ball well so we over helped off of people we shouldn’t have been helping off of and the hard thing is when we make things up it’s hard to be successful like that because you can’t stay connected. Everyone’s guessing what the other guy’s doing instead of knowing what the other guy’s doing.”
The Wolves went cold in crunch time and couldn’t stop the Kings offense when it mattered most. That was the game in a nutshell.
Karl-Anthony Towns had two straight open looks from the left corner three that would have tied it at 105, but both shots rimmed out. They were really good looks that simply didn’t fall. That’s not really where they lost the game but things obviously would have been different if he knocks that trey down. The truth is, there’s just no team in the NBA that’s going to win a tight game down the stretch when they miss 10 of their last 11 shots. The margin for error on the defensive end is too small. The only reason it was so close was due to the refs gift-wrapping the Wolves free throws. That’s how they stayed in the game, hitting 21 free throws to Sacramento’s 10.
DeMarcus Cousins finished with 32 points, including 21 in the second half, and he added seven rebounds and seven assists. The Wolves brought the double on him throughout the night, and while he started off very cold, he eventually did what the best player’s like him do. He found his rhythm and went to work. In the fourth, his passing out of the post was superb. He was consistently finding open shooters and they were hitting big shots. Watching Boogie dissect the Wolves in the halfcourt offense made me think about what it’s going to be like once Towns truly takes the next step as a post passer and starts making reads and crisp passes to the right guy at the level Cousins does it at.
Don’t look now but suddenly the Kings have found their groove, winning four of their last five games. Our old friend Anthony Tolliver was a complete nuisance off the bench for them. He scored 17 points (5-7 from deep) as Sacramento hit a season-high 15 3-pointers on 29 attempts. Tolliver (extremely depressing voice) outscored the Wolves’ bench by six points in what remains one the biggest issues hindering the team; they have no scoring punch off the pine, and the offense often runs dry with the reserves on the floor.
“We’ve got to learn,” Ricky Rubio, who put together one of his best games of the season after bricking his first few shots, said. He finished with 13 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and three steals in 34 minutes.
“We’ve got to learn that when we have a big lead like that on the other team, we have to play as a team defense,” he continued. “I mean, we did some good things tonight but overall we’ll go home thinking about how we didn’t close the fourth quarter like we wanted and have been doing. We just have to learn.”
Zach LaVine dropped a career-high 40 points but struggled mightily down the stretch with his decision-making in the pick-and-roll. Sacramento deserves credit for their defense, and making things tough on him with the way they were defending it, but overall it was a disappointing way to end the best scoring game of his career.
The failed pocket pass to Karl-Anthony Towns with the game hanging in the balance with the Wolves down 106-105 with 36 seconds remaining—DeMarcus Cousins made a great play to steal the rock—was crushing. Then, LaVine committed a shooting foul on Garrett Temple, who made both free throws to give the Kings the three point lead. Again, Towns got two great looks from the corner and both just rimmed out. That was the game. Another one slipped away in the end.
“Every time you lose it’s discouraging because for us, we’ve been in a chance to win almost every game,” LaVine admitted after the game. “It’s annoying, but you just have to have thick skin and move onto the next one. We’ve got another tough opponent.”
When asked about his career-high scoring night, LaVine wasn’t interested in talking about his stats. “It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s a loss. It should result in a win and it didn’t.”
LaVine is 100 percent right and his words likely echo how Wolves fans feel. It really doesn’t matter when another one bites the dust.
Notes and Quotes
Kings Head Coach Dave Joerger on the win:
“It was a good game, we got to get fired up about coaching at home and seeing a bunch of friends and [we] care a ton about the Timberwolves organization, they got a ton of ton of talent. They are hard to guard and we’re fortunate. I thought we came out in the fourth quarter, we just didn’t have a lot of pop and came out to start the fourth quarter and made a run right away and picked up our level of intensity, and then we made some great plays at the end. Anthony [Tolliver] all over did a great job, hit some shots but also helped our defense, DeMarcus [Cousins] was up in the pick and rolls, Ty had another great night for us and just has done a terrific job, Aaron [Afflalo] got hurt and played through it for us as well.”
On the progress of their defense:
“Just the time spent together and how we want to do it, the end of game situations we’re defending pretty well. I think we’re executing pretty well offensively, we had two turnovers in a row that were a little uncharacteristic but maybe that’s the karma in the game because Karl-Anthony [Towns] had the two wide open looks and didn’t get them to go down, so maybe that’s just the karma.”
Zach LaVine on the loss:
“They hit a lot of big shots. They just hit a lot of big shots. We were trying to match them, but it’s hard to match a team score for score when they have a lead at some point. We’ve just got to be able to get stops through the fourth. We’ve been doing it the last couple games, but tonight just wasn’t that factor. We were up by seven and blew that lead.”
Ricky Rubio on losing the lead:
“We didn’t trust the game plan. We got a little lazy and DeMarcus (Cousins) is one of the best players in the league. He made plays for others and they were making shots.”
- Zach LaVine matched his career-high with seven three-pointers. LaVine scored 25 points in the first half, the highest scoring half of his career, while his 19 points in the second quarter marked his second-highest scoring quarter.
- LaVine is the third Wolves player this season to score 40+ points in a game, joining Towns and Wiggins.
- Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, his 10th consecutive double-double and 20th of the season. Towns is averaging 21.6 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game during the 10-game stretch.
- Sacramento also targeted Towns all night in halfcourt sets. His poor defense remains an extremely large issue.
- Gorgui Dieng blocked two shots tonight, his sixth consecutive game with multiple blocks, which is the longest active streak in the NBA.
- Rubio scored all of his 13 points in the third quarter, the second-highest quarter of his career (14 in the first vs. Philadelphia, Feb. 19, 2012).
- The Wolves outscored Sacramento 19-6 in transition tonight and have now limited opponents to under 10 fast break points in three of the last four games. This is a positive sign for them given their woes in this area.
- This was Cousins’ 14th 30+ point game of the season and third in his last four games.
- Sacramento’s bench outscored its Minnesota counterparts 45-11. As previously mention, Tolliver killed them with threes and Ty Lawson also added 15 points.
- The Kings shot 52.5% from the floor, which is the sixth time this season they have shot better than 50%. They added a season-high 15 three-pointers.
- Wiggins had a terrible game against a team he always kills. When his shot isn’t falling, he has to do other things. He has to crash the glass. He didn’t grab one rebound tonight and that’s simply unacceptable for someone that can jump 12 feet in the air. He has to drive and kick. He had one assist. He has to defend and create turnovers. He had one block and zero steals. He has to do more if the Wolves are going to win consistently.