Before Monday’s game against Brooklyn at Target Center, Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders worked a little gallows humor into his pre-game meeting with the media.
Noting that Kevin Garnett, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were again not going to play, knowing that a total of seven players would miss the game because of injury, Saunders smiled.
“We’re just like the motel Super 8,” he said, referring to how many healthy players he had available. “That’s probably what we’ll be going with tonight.”
Well, noted one Twitter wag, that’s better than Motel 6.
But not much.
In an object lesson of what happens when NBA vets go up against a bunch of kids, the Nets bullied their way past the Wolves 122-106.
Brooklyn shot nearly 58 percent, outrebounded the Wolves 43-36 and, incredibly, outscored the Wolves 78-42 in the paint.
“It’s men against boys right now,” Saunders said. “We couldn’t contain. We couldn’t give up resistance. … You’re in a situation where you give up more than 70 points in the paint and it’s tough to stomach that.’’
Joe Johnson had 22 points. Former Timberwolf Thaddeus Young had 19. Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 off the bench. Center Brook Lopez scored 16 with eight rebounds. The Nets used a combination of Wolves turnovers, dribble penetration and flat-out 1-on-1 domination while scoring those 78 points in the paint, a Nets franchise record and just two off the record for a Wolves opponent. It’s also the most scored in the paint by an NBA team this season and the most since Houston allowed 80 last April.
The Wolves, who lost their fifth game in a row and their ninth in 10 games, were forced to go with a frontcourt rotation as green as St. Patrick’s Day. Gorgui Dieng is in his second season. Adreian Payne and Justin Hamilton have now played a combined 51 NBA games. For youth in the NBA, lessons can sometimes be harsh.
And they promise to keep coming.
“It’s a man’s league,” Saunders said. “At some point you’ll have to stand your ground. I told our guys we’re not going to play zone. You’re going to have to learn how to play. If you get your butts kicked, sometimes that’s part of growing up.”
Or growing pains.
Kevin Martin scored 23 points for the Wolves. Zach LaVine hit on four of six three-pointers on the way to 20 points. But he also had six turnovers. Chase Budinger (18 points) and Hamilton (15 points, six rebounds) were both productive off the bench. As a team the Wolves shot nearly 47 percent and were 9-for-15 from three-point range.
But the Wolves couldn’t slow the Nets’ attack.
It’s unclear when Garnett’s sore knee and Pekovic’s sore ankle will return. Rubio is expected back Wednesday in Toronto.
“We let them get going from the start,” Budinger said. “We let some of their guys get hot. You aren’t going to win any games [giving up] that many points in the paint. That’s unbelievable.”
The Wolves did enough offensively to stay in the game for much of the first half, even grabbing a short-lived one-point lead on Payne’s running jumper early in the second quarter. But the Nets responded by finishing the half on a 17-4 run to take control for good.
And it won’t get much easier. The Wolves will play two back-to-backs in the next week.
“We’re just learning and trying to do the best we can with it,” LaVine said. “You just have to fight through it.”