CHICAGO – Ryan Saunders was mad as hell, and he wasn’t going to take the first half anymore in the Timberwolves’ 117-110 loss to the Bulls on Wednesday night.
The Wolves committed nine first-quarter turnovers and were down by as many as 19 to a team that isn’t exactly the cream of the NBA crop. In the halftime locker room, he was mad at the entire team and had a “one-sided” conversation with them.
“You can call it a conversation if you want,” Saunders said.
But he directed some of his ire at one player in particular — Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins seemed as if he was in witness protection during the first half: three points, four turnovers. Saunders made sure to let Wiggins know he was displeased with that effort.
“He was yelling at me a lot of the time,” Wiggins said. “… I needed it. The first half was a bad first half. I wasn’t aggressive. I was settling. I feel like in the second half, I just was a little more aggressive, tried to get downhill, creating for guys and do whatever I could to help the team win.”
They almost did and took a one-point lead twice in the fourth quarter, but former Wolves guard Zach LaVine (25 points) hit a three to break a 108-108 tie with 1 minute, 26 seconds remaining as the Bulls closed the game on a 9-2 run. Wiggins scored 22 points in the second half to finish with 25 to go along with nine assists and five rebounds; Karl-Anthony Towns overcame third-quarter foul trouble to score 40.
“Every night we want to play for him, as hard as we can for him, and that first half, we didn’t do it. We had to fix it”
But the Wolves still lost their seventh consecutive game. No wonder Saunders was steamed.
“I liked the second half. Hated the first half,” Saunders said. “You’re not going to win games like that. We’re not a very good basketball team right now.”
His halftime diatribe was a departure for the normally mild-mannered Saunders, who has made his reputation on the NBA by building solid relationships with players and not getting overheated. But he pledged upon getting the head coaching job full time that he would hold players accountable when needed. He did that at halftime, especially with Wiggins. Towns said this was the second time this season Saunders blew up like that.
“We’re receptive because we’re willing to take criticism, constructive criticism,” Towns said. “We’re willing to take those kinds of days and use it as motivation, not take it out a wrong way. That’s a testament to these guys in the locker room, who are putting their pride and their ego to the side for the betterment of the team.”
Added Robert Covington (nine points): “That was the most upset that I’ve ever seen him. … He sparked that second half pretty much because of how he came into the locker room during that halftime. He just put a fire under people.”
Saunders got the response he was looking for and the Wolves nearly came back but couldn’t score in crunch time, a theme that has plagued them in this current losing streak.
“I’m honest when I tell you guys, I don’t look at losing streaks,” Saunders said. “I look at did we get better today? In the second half, we did. At times we didn’t execute down the stretch. In the first half, we did not.”
Nor did Wiggins. How did Saunders like Wiggins’ night overall?
“I was happy with how he played in the second half,” Saunders said. “I expect that out of Andrew moving forward.”
Wiggins, for his part, took the scolding in stride.
“He’s a nice guy. So it takes a lot for him to get mad, and I feel like we want to play for him,” Wiggins said. “We all like him, enjoy him as a coach and everything. We can relate [to him]. … Every night we want to play for him, as hard as we can for him, and that first half, we didn’t do it. We had to fix it.”
They just couldn’t fix it enough to get a victory.