The spirit was neither willing nor even present in the Timberwolves’ 130-107 loss to Indiana on Tuesday in which they were both played and booed off the Target Center floor.
With three-time All Star Jimmy Butler out ill, the Wolves permitted a Pacers team formerly 1-2 to shoot a franchise record 66.7 percent from the field – including nearly 77 percent in the second half – on a night when it led by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter.
The Pacers’ starting five shot 87 percent in the second half, going 19-for-22 from the field.
The season is only four games old, but does the presence and resolve of only one man — Butler — mean that much to a team that showed so little of both, particularly after halftime?
“We have to have a toughness to win,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The spirit has to remain strong and you have to find ways to win.”
The Wolves didn’t do either against the Pacers, who played without Myles Turner, the young center whom Indiana is rebuilding around now that superstar Paul George is gone to Oklahoma City.
Without Butler, the Wolves seemed directionless. He fell ill on Monday, missed Tuesday morning’s shootaround and didn’t feel well enough to play because of what the team termed an upper respiratory infection. He received IV fluids on Tuesday.
“We’ll see about tomorrow,” Thibodeau said about Wednesday’s game at Detroit. “So hopefully he’s better.”
Reserve forward Shabazz Muhammad started for Butler at shooting guard.
“Obviously, Jimmy is a big player for our team and means a lot,” Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns said. “But, you know, we have to get the job done. There’s nothing left to say. Whoever steps on the court, we have to get the job done. … We can’t let anyone home or away take our spirit away. We didn’t play as well as we needed to do today.”
More than once Tuesday, the Wolves were booed by a home audience announced at 14,353, a sound seldom heard in years past probably because, unlike this season, expectations were so low.
“We’ve got to go out there and give fans something to watch,” said Towns, whose 28-point, seven-rebound performance wasn’t nearly enough. “Obviously, they don’t want to see losing anymore. We’ve got to give them something to cheer about.”
Trailing by 16 points before the game was nine minutes old, the Wolves twice took a fleeting two-point lead late in the second half and led 79-74 midway through the third quarter.
From there, they were outscored 56-28.
“You’ve got to fight through things,” Thibodeau said. “I didn’t like our body language when it wasn’t going our way. You get into things together, you get out of them together. If things aren’t going our way, make some hustle plays, help unite and inspire your team. I think we’re capable of doing that.”
The 130 points were the most the Wolves have allowed since, well, only last February, when Houston scored 142 against them.
“That’s something we can’t do,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “We’ve got to play defense as a team, all five players. … It didn’t go our way the whole game, but these are the games we’ve got to grind out and win.”
For the night, the Wolves were outrebounded 42-27, outdone 18-6 in fast-break points and outshot at the free-throw line by six makes after the Wolves made only 14 of 22 attempts. Wiggins was 1-for-6 from the foul line.
Two nights after he scored 27 points and made the desperation heave that won the game at the buzzer, Wiggins scored a mere seven points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field.
“You’re not going to play great in 82 games,” Thibodeau said. “But you can still play really well when you don’t shoot well. He wasn’t great offensively, but he can rebound, play defense, push the ball. He can use his athleticism in a lot of different ways. He can play well without shooting well and that holds true for every player on our team.”