As the Timberwolves have made their way through an injury-ravaged season, they have had so many close calls, victories close enough to see but too far away to grab. They have built big leads and lost them. They have dug deep holes and almost fought back.
And then: Sunday's 100-99 loss to Golden State at Target Center.
It had a little bit of both. The Wolves built and lost a 16-point first-half lead, then did the same with a nine-point advantage early in the fourth. Down three late, the Wolves almost came back again, but Luke Ridnour's midrange jumper with 1.9 seconds left didn't go down, so the Wolves went down for a second time in a row.
"We wanted to change our mentality in the second half [of the season] and be a winning team," said guard Ricky Rubio, who had 16 points, 11 assists, six steals and eight rebounds (and six turnovers). He was one of five Wolves starters who scored 14 or more points. "We wanted to keep winning at home, especially today. It was an important game. And it seemed like, again, they wanted to win the game more than us."
The Wolves (20-33) felt this one.
Coach Rick Adelman was terse in his comments postgame. Rubio was, frankly, morose. And with reason. The Wolves scored 32 points off 22 Golden State turnovers and had a 62-36 edge in the paint. Derrick Williams had 23 points and 12 boards, center Nikola Pekovic scored 21.
But, in the end, it appeared the Warriors did want it more.
"We could have finished this game differently," forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "But, I guess, Golden State was a little more focused at the end."
The Wolves opened the game like they were going to run away with it, until Jarrett Jack (23 points) and Carl Landry (19) came off the bench to change the game's tone. The Wolves led by 16 late in the first quarter, but that lead was down to three by halftime. Down four in the third quarter, the Wolves rallied to lead by five entering the fourth, a lead that grew to 85-76 on Dante Cunningham's free throw with 10:23 left.
And then, the Wolves' next five possessions: missed three, turnover, turnover, missed three and missed two. Just like that, the game was a tug of war. Jack tied the score at 93 with two free throws with 3:32 left.
What ultimately cost the Wolves was that they were outrebounded 18-11 in the final quarter, with the Warriors turning six offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points.
Pekovic scored with 2:03 left, but Jack hit a three-pointer to put Golden State up one. Rubio scored and was fouled. But his only missed free throw of the game kept it a one-point lead, and when Stephen Curry (18 points) scored at the other end, the Warriors (33-23) led for good.
Still, there were chances.
Draymond Green nudged Williams out of the way for a key rebound of a missed Warriors free throw with 37.7 seconds left and Golden State up by two. Down three, Rubio hit two free throws with 30.4 seconds left. After Jack missed with 10.9 left, Kirilenko got the rebound. He fed it to Ridnour, who pushed the ball down the court but missed the shot.
"It's a tough loss,'' Adelman said. "Our guys really played hard. They had a great chance to win, but it just didn't happen."
Added Rubio: "We have to know how to close these games if we want to be a good team."