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Raptors 109, Wolves 104: Nothing is Free

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Missed free throws haunt the Wolves as they lose in Toronto for the 14th straight time.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Wolves played the Raptors at home a week and a half ago, the team was without Jimmy Butler. An expected loss against the two-seed from the East turned into a surprising win, as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony teamed up to lead the team in a gritty effort.

Even with Butler back for the rematch tonight in Toronto, it was set up to be another tough game as the team was on a road back-to-back. After losing in Atlanta last night, an affair lacking effort from the heavily favored visitors, the Wolves brought energy early to Air Canada Centre.

The defense was on a string to start the game, with switching and help coming on almost every play. DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry were totally kept in check in the first quarter, with the Raptors scoring only 19.

As the game went on, the Wolves built a 13-point lead, but it wasn’t long before Toronto crept back. While they shot effectively from the field, ending at 49.4%, it was the patented midrange show, with nearly no action coming from deep until late.

Twos or empty possessions were traded with three-pointers and the lead was gone, never to return again. The Raptors ended up winning 109-104, another loss to an Eastern conference foe.

This game was frustrating, but in a different way than last night. The effort was there, but simple mistakes were the team’s undoing, particularly at the charity stripe.

The team shot 15-24, with Butler going 5-10 on his own. It was disconcerting considering that is one of their strengths as they shoot nearly 80% as a team.

Ultimately, you could the pin the loss on that alone, with the Raptors hitting 22 of 26 free throws. You could look at the three-point disparity as well, the Wolves took 12 to Toronto’s 29, but the game was still right there at the end.

Three-point shooting has been a knock on this team before and during the season. However, they sit at number three in offensive rating in the entire league, trailing only the Warriors and Rockets. Had they executed their usual play of attacking the rim and making free throws, this game would have been theirs.

The frustration boiling point was reached with 41 seconds left in the game. With Toronto up 105-101, the Wolves ran a carousel of a two-man game before Wiggins hucked up a three that missed. Derozan rebounded, was fouled and a full 22 seconds had ticked off the clock.

At that point, you knew it was over.

Late starts in the shot clock have been another critique of this team and that possession definitely deserves criticism. Sure, if he hits the three, there is plenty of time to work with being down only one.

But using that much of the shot clock, that late in the game, requires you to hit that deep three. I am not sure if there was an option to drive and it was just snuffed out by Toronto, who to their credit defended well tonight, but the play was baffling.

Speaking of baffling, can someone put out a missing person’s report for KAT? After only eight attempts against the Hawks, he followed that up with seven attempts tonight, scoring 11 points in 29 minutes.

I am not trying to knock Towns. It’s more attributed to a lack of usage and it’s hard to understand.

Dave Benz mentioned on the broadcast that he brought up KAT’s low attempts against Atlanta to Thibs. He maintained that a player could ‘contribute in many other ways.’ While I agree with the sentiment, KAT is the biggest offensive unicorn around.

If he begins to dominate a game, a team has to change how their defending. While he can contribute in other ways, the team lost both of these games when he attempted a combined 15 field goals. With his efficiency, he should be getting that many in a single effort.

He did finish with his league-leading 44th double-double with 10 total rebounds.

Wiggins struggled in another homecoming for him. He only made two field-goals in the first quarter, after missing six straight shots, and those were both circus bank shots. He made only one three, and ended with 15 points on 7-22 shooting.

While he rebounded well, totaling eight, and was active on defense, his inefficiency hurt the team. It’s tough because Wiggins seems to need high-usage to be totally effective, while Towns is sitting on the perimeter waiting for his turn.

If Thibs can find a good balance between the two, this team is very difficult to beat.

Butler was heroic in moments, but his missed free throws were at really inopportune times. I believe four of his misses were while the team was behind, and you wonder if it has anything to do with that sore knee.

In the first half, he killed with turn around jumpers after getting into the paint, pivoting defenders out of their wits. He finished with 25 points, six assists and five boards.

While Lowry and Derozan were kept in check early, they fueled their comeback in the second half, with help from their youthful bench.

Lowry finished with 15 points and nine assists. DeMar had 23 points and eight dimes. Norman Powell, Jakob Poetl and Fred VanVleet contributed in big ways.

Poetl was 6-7 from the field for all 12 of his points. All four of his rebounds came on the offensive end and led to points.

VanVleet was coming off a 25-point performance versus the Lakers and becoming a father last night. He came in and provided immediate scoring, ending up with 10.

Powell had the steal on Wiggins which led to the high-rising dunk that indicated the tides had changed in the game.

You can’t be too disappointed with a loss to the second seeded team in the East. Toronto is a good basketball team.

You can be disappointed with the lack of execution in crucial moments and missed free throws. Hell, I guess you can be disappointed by whatever you want.

I don’t think there are major, team altering concerns to be taken away from these two straight losses. I do think Thibs should look at what adjustments he can make in regards to effort against lesser opponents, and execution at greater ones.

The Wolves will look to rebound at home against the Bucks this Thursday.