The Timberwolves once again show they are savants of losing. They lose exquisitely. Brilliantly. When it seems an impossible task, they find a way.
Tonight was of the blown lead variety, something they’ve clearly mastered. Earlier in the season they rushed it, immaturely blowing leads in the third quarter. More recently, they’ve exhibited the elan that comes with experience, waiting until late to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s a subtle change, but adds that extra spice to proceedings: Could it be? Might they actually win?
Alas no. They will not win.
They will instead commit a few ill-timed turnovers, clank a few nervous jumpers, miss some free throws, fail to grab a key rebound, and find a way to give back a nine point lead in three minutes and lose to the Utah Jazz 94-92.
The particularly galling element of this spectacular failure is that it was one of their best defensive efforts of the season. They held the Jazz to 41.6 percent shooting, contested effectively for 45 minutes, and had control of the game.
But of course being connoisseurs of the Wolves, we knew that control was merely an illusion. A mirage meant to fool the less experienced spectators into expecting a win.
They cleverly decided to stop guarding Derrick Favors because reasons. Ricky Rubio brilliantly committed his only two turnovers of the game during the final stretch. Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng missed mid-range jumpers, Karl-Anthony Towns allowed Rudy Gobert to get inside for the go-ahead tip-in (subtle!), and Zach LaVine held the ball until the buzzer down two before clanking a contested shot.
It takes a village.
In addition to their surprisingly good defense tonight, the Wolves featured an unusually balanced attack, with all five starters in double figures. The shooting, which had been good through most of the night, fell apart in the fourth quarter, and fell off a cliff as desperation set in. Much of what they were getting was in the mid-range, normally not shots we love, but with Rudy Gobert in the paint, they were the open looks available, and the Wolves took advantage. In the third quarter, they also started getting some things at the rim and got key threes from Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine.
The third was their strongest stretch of the game as they outscored the Jazz 32-22 with excellent play on both ends. It was an elegant set-up for the inevitable catastrophe. Perching the anvil, as it were, high on the cliff only to have it, as always, miss the roadrunner and crush the coyote. Or Wolves in this case.
The problem throughout was turnovers. In addition to Rubio’s late two already mentioned, Wiggins had five, most of the live ball variety that resulted in easy points for the Jazz. This would, as we envisioned, bring this loss to fruition, as they needed every one of them to choreograph the enchanting ballet of failure they performed in the final three minutes.
It was a classic performance of the blown lead by the Wolves. Perhaps not quite to the level of their never-forget overtime loss to the Rockets a few weeks back, but certainly an improvement on last night’s ho-hum blowing of a five point lead after three quarters to the Wizards, which was mere practice for tonight’s epic collapse to another Northwest Division opponent, against whom they remain pristinely winless.
This is becoming a season of aesthetic genius; losing with style in any imaginable fashion. I hope you are appreciating it as it unfolds before us. I’d say it can’t last, but with this group, who knows? There might be no limits.