LOS ANGELES – In January 2012, the Timberwolves danced off the Staples Center floor while star Kevin Love raised his arms out in defiance after his long three-point shot beat the Los Angeles Clippers at the final buzzer before a national ESPN audience.
On Monday, he held his head with both hands in anguish after his tying putback layup at the rim came up short and bounced back to him to end a 109-107 loss to the Clippers at another final buzzer.
The night before inside the very same arena, the Wolves celebrated a rout of the once-mighty Lakers that ended a six-year, 22-game losing streak to the 16-time NBA champions.
This time, the Wolves rallied twice in the final five minutes against the new glamour NBA team in town only to watch their chance to force overtime disappear not once, but twice in the final two seconds when putback attempts by both Love and Nikola Pekovic wouldn’t go.
Love was asked afterward how many times out of 100 he makes that tip right at the rim.
“Ninety-nine,” he said.
The Wolves had the ball and a timeout with 6.9 seconds remaining. Guard Kevin Martin already had scored 12 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter when he ran a two-man game with Love that resulted in a 16-foot shot that missed as the final three seconds ticked loudly off the clock.
Pekovic’s layup from the right side with 1.1 seconds left rolled off the rim.
Tick, tick, tick …
“My natural instinct was to rush the shot and get it up there,” Love said. “I was right there. I could have dunked it, but I thought I just had to touch it real quick because time was running out. I didn’t want them to have to go to the scorer’s table [for official’s review].
“It just sat on the rim, didn’t go anywhere, came right off. … Like I said, 99 out of 100 times that goes in. My bad.”
On a night when the Wolves grabbed 16 offensive rebounds to the Clippers six, neither of their last two would fall to tie a game in which they trailed 100-89 with 5:13 left but produced a 10-1 run that got them within a basket until they trailed again 107-101 with 1:37 left.
“They believed they could get back in,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “Our guys played hard. That’s the way you have to play. They made the right plays defensively and converted at the other end. That’s the way you have to play if you’re going to win in this league in the fourth quarter, and we were there.
“When you get down, though, everything has to go right for you.”
The Wolves couldn’t quite overcome Clippers star Blake Griffin’s 25-point performance nor sixth-man Jamal Crawford’s game-changing, 18-point night off the bench.
It ended a game in which Martin, Love and Pekovic all scored 23 or more points, but Clippers forward Blake Griffin answered with 25 of his own and Clippers sixth-man Jamal Crawford played a deciding role with an 18-point performance off the bench.
The Wolves flirted with acquiring Crawford at the trade deadline two seasons ago, ultimately turning down a three-way deal that would have brought them a deft scorer off the bench because they declined to take a contract back.
Approaching two years later, Crawford on Monday showed why the Clippers signed him as a free agent the next summer and why the Wolves wanted him in the first place.
Crawford scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, and that didn’t include his desperation, 50-foot, three-point heave that banked in at the third quarter’s buzzer and sent his team into the final 12 minutes with an 85-80 lead.
Crawford is the kind of prolific scoring presence off the bench that the Wolves continue to search for during a 5-3 season start, at least until injured swingman Chase Budinger returns from a knee injury probably sometime in December.
On Monday, Love, Pekovic and Martin combined for 78 of the Wolves’ 107 points while the team’s bench got outscored 40-17 by the Clippers’ reserves.
“We fought,” Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said. “We’re going to fight all the way through. That’s our mentality. At the end, we had a chance. We have to be proud of that.”
In the end, they had two final chances, including that 1-in-100 one that Love would love to have back.
“You’ve got to have a short memory win or lose in this league,” Love said. “It’s just one game. You have to move on.”