The Timberwolves still haven’t beaten the Los Angeles Lakers since Kevin Garnett wore their uniform.
And all they’ll remember about this 22nd consecutive loss — 120-117 at Target Center — is the final play.
The Wolves trailed by 15 points in the third quarter, by eight points with two minutes left and by five with 40 seconds left on a night when both Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard dominated.
But still they had the chance to send the game to overtime when Ricky Rubio’s buzzer-beating three-point shot never reached the rim.
Rubio placed both his hands on his head in disbelief and gestured to referee Jason Phillips, pleading for a foul call on Bryant that never came as time expired.
Bryant missed the second of two free throws that would have given his team a four-point lead with 3.4 seconds left. Rubio grabbed the rebound and rushed down the court, launching a shot from well behind the three-point line as Bryant closed hard from behind.
Video replays appeared to show Bryant’s hand strike Rubio across his left wrist as he shot. The ball flew left and fell short.
Fifteen minutes after the game, Rubio sat at his locker with his head buried in a towel.
Later he said, “I don’t like to lose. I hate it. Sometimes it’s tough when you give everything and something like that happens. Just keep going through, it’s tough, it’s tough.”
Asked what kind of look he had at the basket and if he felt he would have made the shot, Rubio said, “I don’t want to think about it.”
Asked if the referees would have called a foul if it hadn’t been a superstar contesting his shot, he said, “I mean, what do you want me to say? I don’t know.”
Wolves coach Rick Adelman wasn’t about to answer that question, either.
“You’re not going to goad me into that,” he said. “It was tough all night long, really tough.”
Had Phillips made the call, Rubio would have gone to the free-throw line for three shots with a chance to tie the score one night after the Wolves won by 23 points in Detroit.
Had the 77-percent free-throw shooter made all three, the game would have gone to overtime.
Bryant scored 31 points and Howard delivered a 25-point, 16-rebound, five-block, five-steal performance but made just three of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter after the Wolves fouled him repeatedly in an attempt to get back in the game.
So what if … ?
“We would have went to overtime and won the game,” Bryant said. “Simple as that.”