LOS ANGELES – When the Timberwolves looked for somebody to blame for Sunday’s collapsing 120-116 overtime loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles, they looked in different directions.
Leading by five points with 89 seconds left in regulation time and by four with 18 seconds left, the Timberwolves turned the ball over with eight seconds remaining and allowed the Clippers the game-tying dunk that forced overtime and led to their third loss in six days that they felt got away.
All the Wolves had to do with those eight seconds left was inbound the ball after a timeout, force the Clippers to foul them and then make their free throws.
Instead, Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio from the sideline just above the top of the key passed to Kevin Martin as he streaked free deep into the backcourt to receive the pass. As both Clippers Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford pursued, Martin grabbed the ball far away from any teammates and tried to dribble backward away from his pursuers rather than force one or both of them to foul a 93-percent free-throw shooter.
As he spun away, Paul reached in and knocked the ball free. Crawford picked it up off the floor, his momentum carrying him and the ball toward the basket for the tying two-handed dunk.
With no timeouts remaining, Wolves coach Rick Adelman wildly gestured for Rubio to push the ball. He did, finding down low big man Nikola Pekovic, who missed a short hook shot and then a falling away 15-foot jumper as time expired.
In an overtime where the Wolves also had their chances to win, Paul scored nine points to lead his Clippers to their fifth consecutive victory while the Wolves squandered a 45-point, 19-rebound game from Kevin Love and a career-best 34-point, 14-rebound game from Pekovic and fell two games below .500 at 13-15.
Afterward, Love seethed at his locker.
“We just blew it, blew the game,” Love said. “I don’t know how else to say it. We blew the game.”
In regulation time or overtime?
“Both,” he said. “Double whammy.”
Love cited his team’s lack of “execution” and “being strong with the ball” and “everything.”
When asked if the team’s forthcoming three-day Christmas break from practices or games that started Monday allowed time to recover from such a heartbreaking loss, Love said, “Yeah, good thing about the NBA is there’s another game. We get a little break, rest our legs, come back and hopefully we’ll take stuff a little more seriously.”
When asked if one or two blown plays stood out, he said, “That’s a loaded question. You can probably figure that one out” and then called the loss the toughest of the season.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” he said.
Meanwhile, Martin and Wolves coach Rick Adelman turned their postgame attention to the officiating. Both limited their postgame comments, saying or implying they didn’t want to get fined by the NBA for what they said.
“Part of the game, something I’ve been into 1,000 times,” Martin said about the play that led his turnover. “I’m going to stop there because I bought some expensive gifts for my family. So I’m going to stop there.”
Adelman’s interview with media members afterward lasted about eight seconds.
“It was a tough game for a lot of reasons,” Adelman said. “That’s all I have to say. I’m not going to get fined. I’m not going to say anything else.”
Love did just about everything possible for his team to win Sunday. He scored those 45 points and was involved in plays that sent reserve forward Matt Barnes and star Blake Griffin from the game.
Barnes was ejected in the third quarter after getting called for a flagrant foul type 2 when he swing his arm and stuck Love across the head on a drive to the basket. Love took the charge early in overtime that fouled Griffin out of the game and ended his 32-point, 10-rebound night.
Pekovic, too, did just about everything possible, except for make those two shots that ended the fourth quarter and he also missed a short hook shot that would have tied the score with four seconds left in overtime.
His 34 points were three more than his previous career high, set against New Orleans in December 2012.
“I mean, I scored all game,” Pekovic said. “All game was fine. Just, I don’t know, it’s more difficult to miss [some of those short shots] than to score.”
Like Love, Pekovic called the loss the most bitter of the season.
“We got some shots to win the game but we didn’t score,” he said. “I got a shot at the end of the game, I didn’t score.”
When asked if the loss is more disheartening because of the individual efforts he and Love put forth, Pekovic said, “That’s also one of the things that really hurts, when you see all this.”
Martin vowed the Wolves would return from their three-day break ready to put Sunday’s loss — what he also called the toughest of the season — behind them. He also committed a crucial turnover in overtime, wildly throwing the ball from underneath the basket in an attempt to save it out toward midcourt, where Darren Collison grabbed it and scored on a layup that tied the game at 110 with 3:12 left.
“We just played so hard for something like that to go down,” Martin said. “You know we’ll bounce back from it. We played well. We just have to play like that after the break and we’ll be fine.”