The Timberwolves could not stop it.
Clearly frustrated, coach Rick Adelman joked that he might have set a record calling timeouts, to no avail. “I almost ran out of them,” he said. Guard Ricky Rubio admitted a lack of energy, forward Kevin Love acknowledged the ugliness of what transpired.
“There was a four- or five-minute span when it was pretty bad,” he said.
It lasted longer than that. In eight-plus-minutes of the third quarter Monday at Target Center, the Wolves — perhaps showing the frustration of an up-and-down season destined to end nine games from now without a playoff berth — let the Los Angeles Clippers take control of a close game with a 34-7 run on the way to a 114-104 victory.
Thanks to a spirited fourth-quarter rally by the Wolves bench, the final score was not an indication of how competitive this game was.
The Clippers won their eighth consecutive game against the Wolves despite playing without star forward Blake Griffin (back spasms) and top sixth man Jamal Crawford (sore Achilles’ tendon). But they still won their third in a row and their 16th in 18 games.
And, to add injury to insult, the Wolves (36-37) lost center Nikola Pekovic again to a flare-up of his right ankle bursitis only seven minutes into the game.
Clippers guard Darren Collison scored 16 of his 28 points in that game-changing third-quarter run, which featured missed Wolves jumpers at one end and a layup drill at the other. Chris Paul finished with 22 points and nine assists and Matt Barnes had 19 for Los Angeles (53-22).
The big run started after the Wolves had scored the first six points of the quarter to take a 57-54 lead on Love’s 18-foot jumper 1:43 in.
Less than nine minutes later, the Clippers led by 24 points.
“It was like we missed every shot we took,” Adelman said. “It’s weird that we scored [six] points right off the back and then we couldn’t score forever. The worst part about it is that it was like a 3-on-2 every single time. It wasn’t like we were making them work. They were just getting layup after layup.”
Adelman admitted it looked like his players were hanging their heads.
“We have nine games to go, we have to come out every game, every quarter and bust it,” Adelman said. “They owe themselves that, the fans that, the organization.”
Down 24 early in the fourth quarter, the Wolves bench showed the energy the starters had lacked. Shabazz Muhammad scored 11 points in the final 12 minutes and Gorgui Dieng and Chase Budinger each had 10 as the Wolves pulled within eight points three times in the final minute, but the hole was too deep.
“Our energy wasn’t there,” Rubio said. “We made an effort in the first half. In the third quarter we couldn’t find it. I think the second unit, in the fourth quarter, gave us a lesson, I would say.”
A painful one, perhaps.
“It’s definitely tough right now,” said Love, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds but shot only 8-for-21. “But we have to finish this thing strong and try to play well.”
• Pekovic left the game after his bursitis became too much to handle. “I was telling [athletic trainer Gregg Farnam] in the locker room before the game and I said, ‘I forgot what it is like to play without pain,’ ” Pekovic said. Pekovic already has had stretches of 13 and six games lost because of the pain, which has been a constant. “I wanted to try,” he said. “I wanted to help the guys, but I felt I was limping, I can’t even do my moves. It’s kind of frustrating for me.”
• Paul had two special guests at Monday’s game: University of Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his 14-year-old son, Patrick, who had a malignant tumor on his thyroid surgically removed two weeks ago, right before the Hawkeyes played in the NCAA tournament. Patrick, a huge fan of Paul’s, and the Clippers guard have become friends; Paul called Patrick both before and after his surgery. McCaffrey and his son were guests of Paul and Clippers coach Doc Rivers Monday. They were at the team’s morning shootaround and attended the game.