Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman sounded like a man who didn’t know whether he should have petitioned his congressman or wished for a tender mercy after a 111-108 home loss to Sacramento, arguably his team’s most damaging defeat yet this season.
His Wolves waltzed through 3½ quarters before finally turning up the temperature on the Kings, who had gotten thumped at Indiana the night before.
While their starting backcourt watched the entire fourth quarter, the Wolves couldn’t find enough in those final six minutes to beat the Kings, whose performance from start to almost the finish provided star forward Rudy Gay redemption and former Wolves lottery pick Derrick Williams a triumphant return to Target Center, his basketball home for his first two-plus NBA seasons.
The Wolves’ late push chopped a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit down to 109-108 with four seconds left, but inevitably all a late 11-2 flourish fueled by Kevin Love’s consecutive three-pointers did was make this defeat the 11th by four points or fewer so far this season without a victory.
“Of course, it’s another four-point game,” Adelman said dryly afterward. “We should have stayed away from those threes at the end, so it would have been an eight-point game.”
Or they should have found some kind of life before those final minutes. The Wolves couldn’t find their verve — or any kind of committed defense — for the longest of times.
“Our energy was bad,” said reserve point guard J.J. Barea who, along with Alexey Shved, played the entire fourth quarter while starters Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin were benched. “It was dead out there. You could hear anything.”
Whether lack of energy is a euphemism for really not being that good remains to be seen over the season’s remaining 44 games. But for now, the Wolves are 18-20, four games out of the West’s final playoff spot and lamenting about another game that got away, this one against the Kings (14-23).
“I keep saying we’re better than our record indicates,” said Love, who played most of the game despite a sore knee after Kings forward Quincy Acy’s hip banged it during the first quarter. “But until we go out there and win games in a row and beat teams that we feel we’re supposed to be, we won’t go anywhere.”
And until the Wolves defend somebody like they mean it …
Gay apologized to his teammates after Tuesday’s loss at Indiana and vowed to do better. Then he went out and scored 22 of his game-high 33 points in the first half, and Adelman said his players just submitted to the Kings for far too long.
“We’re so hands off defensively, it almost takes an act of Congress to go out and foul somebody,” Adelman said. “You’ve got to get after some people; they’re too good in this league. We just pretty much went with them. I don’t know who we think we are. That’s just not going to do it.”
Before the game, Adelman called veteran forward Luc Mbah a Moute — acquired from the Kings in a November trade that sent former No. 2 overall pick Williams packing — his best perimeter defender. But Mbah a Moute never got off the bench Wednesday, not after Gay went off, Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins’ strength neutralized Nikola Pekovic and Williams delivered 16 points in his return to Target Center.
“But we’re 10 points down, too,” Adelman said, explaining why his best individual defender sat. “We have to find a way to get back in the game. I came within about two seconds of putting him in the game. I don’t know. We’re trying to go with a group that’s playing pretty good off the bench and it didn’t happen.”