Only 10 games into the Timberwolves season, their third-quarter reversals might have their coach headed in the general direction, even if his team’s repeated play doesn’t yet completely reach, of one popular definition of insanity.
The Wolves’ 115-108 loss to Charlotte at Target Center left coach Tom Thibodeau hoarse, terse and questioning his team’s choices while making the same mistakes time and again.
“I don’t know if discouraging is the right word, but very concerned,” he said. “It tells you we’re not learning, and that bothers me.”
The Wolves held yet another double-digit lead — 14 points in the second quarter, this time — and again watched it come all undone in a third quarter when they were outscored 36-17 and in a second half when they allowed 69 points.
After losing for the seventh time in those 10 games, point guard Ricky Rubio and forwards Andrew Wiggins and Gorgui Dieng all used the word “hero” to describe a change in personality from a team that has shared the ball so well and built big leads repeatedly only to suddenly become impatient, rush shots and too often play every man for himself after the halftime break.
“We have a lot of talent, we know we can score in a lot of ways,” Rubio said. “But if we don’t play as a team, it’s a waste of time. We try to play hero ball at one point when things aren’t working. It should be the other way around. It should be playing as a team.”
On a day when young star Karl-Anthony Towns turned 21 and join teammates Wiggins and Zach LaVine at that age, Thibodeau called his team’s youth an excuse both he and they should refuse to use.
“We’ve got guys who have been in the league for a while now,” Thibodeau said. “We’re making mistakes that never should be made, from fouling jump shooters to reckless passes and turnovers. It’s all decision-making: What’s a good shot? What’s a bad shot? It’s knowing when to shoot and when to pass. It’s knowing your job and then go do your job. It’s that simple.”
Except that it gets complicated in third quarters, particularly Tuesday’s when Towns, LaVine and Wiggins, among others, were guilty of hoisting shots when they should have passed during stretches when Charlotte outscored them with runs of 15-2 and 21-3.
“It’s natural when something happens to want to save the day, to want to be the hero who makes the shot and gets the momentum going,” Wiggins said.
“We want it, but easier said than done. We have to do it.”
You could argue afterward whether the Wolves’ third-quarter problems this time were rooted in their offense or defense. Both Thibodeau and Rubio called them interconnected, one leading to the other.
Wiggins scored 29 points, but needed 24 shots attempted and 10 made ones to do it. Towns could redefine his position because of his ability to both score down low and shoot the three-point shot, but do you really want him attempting 10 three-pointers (he made three) like he did Tuesday?
Afterward, Rubio said just three games back from injury that he needs to run the team better in those third quarter. Towns said he just needs to play better, period.
“I look myself in the mirror, I have to do more,” Towns said. “I haven’t done enough. Those losses fall on me. I’ve got to do more. I’ve got to be smarter. I’ve got to do better. These losses fall on me.”