Robert Covington played a stretch of the Timberwolves’ 104-99 loss to Indiana without one of his shoes in the third quarter.
If ever there was an obvious hit-you-over-the-head-with, well, a shoe kind of metaphor for the Wolves without center Karl-Anthony Towns, that was it.
Covington did fine without the shoe for a few possessions. He even blocked a shot.
“The one time I did attempt [to put it back on], they were already coming down, so I was like, forget it,” Covington said. “I was going to tell somebody to foul, but there was no point. I’ll be careful and just make sure I’m in the right spot.”
The Wolves have been a team operating with one shoe since Towns went out, first with a knee sprain and now an illness, for 15 consecutive games. Some nights are better than others. But of late, the reality is setting in how much the Wolves miss him.
They lost their third straight game to a team currently in playoff position, the same team they will face Friday in Indianapolis.
“They changed their intensity,” said Gorgui Dieng, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Wolves. “They played harder in the second half. I think we were kind of careless.
Andrew Wiggins, especially, misses Towns’ presence distracting defenses away from him. Wiggins tied a season low with 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting. He didn’t have a field goal after halftime, even down the stretch when the game was still within reach for the Wolves.
Neither team had a double-digit lead in this one, but Indiana executed a few more times while the Wolves offense floundered in the second half after they shot 57% in the first.
“We didn’t have the same intensity as we did when we came out in the first half,” Covington said. “They kind of switched roles a little bit. They came out with the energy that we were supposed to come out with, and that’s how the game started to go. They got into their sets with a little bit more intensity than us, a little bit more rhythm.”
The Wolves shot just 30% in the second half.
Domantas Sabonis had 25 of his 29 points in the first half. Malcolm Brogdon carried Indiana to the finish line with 21 points, 10 in the fourth quarter. The Pacers made some slight adjustments as the Wolves better defended pick-and-roll action involving the two, such as running it on the other side of the floor, and the Wolves were caught flat-footed on some key possessions that enabled the Pacers to maintain a multiple-possession lead in the fourth after the Wolves were up 77-76 entering the final quarter.
But the offensive execution wasn’t there for the Wolves. Wiggins was 0-for-5 in the second half and the Wolves had just seven assists in the half ball movement stagnated.
“We want him to be aggressive,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “We’ll continue to stress that, and we want everybody on this team to be aggressive, get in the paint, and try and create. If the defense commits, that’s where we’re able to generate open looks.”
They couldn’t find many in the final minutes. Such has been life without Towns. The Wolves have the fourth-worst offensive rating in the league since Towns has been out.
Jarrett Culver was a bright spot with 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting while Keita Bates-Diop had 15 points and six rebounds off the bench. But in an ideal world, those two wouldn’t be leading the Wolves in scoring.
“Offensively, we just didn’t convert,” Dieng said. “We get stops and turn it over on the other side. We got to do better.”