Whether it’s a matter of circumstance or coincidence now matters not. What matters after the Timberwolves’ 104-103 loss Wednesday night to a surprising Phoenix team they’re chasing for one of the Western Conference final playoff spots is they still can’t get themselves into winner’s territory or win a close game.
The Suns outscored them 9-1 in the final 2:38 and put further distance in the NBA standings between an overachieving, disciplined, determined bunch that many prognosticators had picked to finish last or thereabouts in the West and a Wolves team that missed yet another chance to get over .500.
The Wolves now are 0-10 in games decided by four or fewer points this season, and Wednesday’s game joined a growing list of games — losses to the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas and Oklahoma City just in recent weeks, to name three — they let get away.
If the season ended Wednesday night, the Suns and Dallas would own the West’s final playoff spots. Phoenix now leads the Wolves by four games.
“We can’t have any more of these,” Wolves star Kevin Love said. “These are terrible. … We’ve had very tough ones. The last three we have lost have been really tough, the last four really. It’s just time.”
After the Wolves lost to Dallas nine days earlier, Love called out the team’s bench for contributing just five points that night. On Wednesday, he singled out two unnamed teammates — believed to be J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham — for sitting at the end of bench and not getting up during timeouts down the stretch with the game on the line.
“We all need to be in this together,” Love said. “We’re supposed to be a team.”
The Wolves didn’t score a field goal for the last 4:31. Not after Corey Brewer’s corner three gave them a 97-88 lead. Not with all of the team’s five starters on the floor. And not after Suns second-year center Miles Plumlee fouled out with 2:44 after he harassed Nikola Pekovic into a 6-for-16 shooting night but couldn’t keep him from scoring nine fourth-quarter points.
Still, the Wolves couldn’t get the ball to Pekovic or Love down the stretch enough when they needed to do so.
“We didn’t make plays,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”
The Suns did, coming back in the final three minutes scoring on a putback basket, at the free-throw line and ultimately on former Timberwolves guard Gerald Green’s 18-foot jump shot with 3.9 seconds left that proved to be the winner. They did so while playing without injured star guard Eric Bledsoe beside fellow point guard Goran Dragic, who delivered a 26-point, nine-assist performance.
Kevin Martin’s short would-be winning shot in the final second missed on a night when he scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half and the Wolves’ tandem of “lumberjacks,” as Philadelphia coach Brett Brown called Love and Pekovic the other night, combined for 10-for-36 shooting.
Before the game, Love said “it’s no mental block or curse or anything” and called it “kind of circumstance.” Point guard Ricky Rubio called it something else.
“I think it’s just coincidence,” Rubio said.
Losing that many close games surely isn’t.
The Wolves turned the ball over three times in the final four minutes, two of them by Rubio. Included was one when Rubio got trapped after driving underneath the basket and threw out desperately with 25 seconds left.
The Suns turned that possession into Green’s winning shot from deep in the right corner.
“We talked about what we want to do and we made mental mistakes,” Adelman said. “We put ourselves in tough positions. Somehow, someway we have to find a way to finish the game and we just haven’t done it. … Somehow we’ve got to learn what it’s going to take to break through on that.”