Tuesday night the Timberwolves were taken by storm, but they weren’t taken by surprise.
They were hosting the Los Angeles Clippers, the hottest team that the NBA has to offer. A deep team that could clinch a playoff spot with a win, one that is making a run at the top three of the Western Conference that likes to come out fast, early.
“They’re hot, you know?” Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins said after the Clippers had beaten the Wolves 122-111 in a game that didn’t feel as close as the final score. “They’re winning a lot of games early. This is a team we should have been ready for.”
Unfortunately, they weren’t.
Down by 19 after allowing 42 first-quarter points, down 20 by half and down 25 early in the third, the Wolves stopped the bleeding, adjusted their defense and made a run of their own, all the way to within six on Karl-Anthony Towns’ three-pointer with 7:19 left in the game.
But no closer.
And if this were a tale of two halves — the Wolves allowed 47 points in the final two quarters after allowing 42 out of the gate — there wasn’t a happy ending.
“We didn’t come out with enough defensive intensity,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “That’s the bottom line. That’s been the story of a number of games with us. You give up 42 points in the first quarter, it’s going to be hard to win.”
The Clippers (45-30) won their sixth straight and for the 11th time in 12 games. And they did it by coming out with a plan. With quickness and ball movement on offense and a defensive plan that had them doubling Towns aggressively as soon as he got the ball, the Clippers jumped to a quick 10-point lead and never looked back.
They shot 65 percent in the first 12 minutes, making seven of 11 threes against a Wolves team that came out on its heels.
Down a bit in the second half, Saunders adjusted, going smaller defensively on Danilo Gallinari and trying to contain Lou Williams.
It worked, just not well enough. Gallinari finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, hitting six of nine three-point shots. Williams had 20 points and Montrezl Harrell 18 off the bench.
Towns, held to six points on 0-for-3 shooting in the first half, recovered to finish with 24 points and 13 boards. Wiggins, playing aggressively again, scored 22. Dario Saric had 18.
The Wolves were down 25 early in the third when they started fighting back, to within 15 by quarter’s end and to within six on Towns’ trey.
But they might have run out of gas. Or the Clippers refocused. Harrell scored. After a Wolves miss, he scored again. Then Garrett Temple scored, followed by Harrell again. The rally put the Clippers up 15 with 4:18 left.
“We just didn’t execute the way we needed to,” Towns said. “Something that I think has failed us in a lot of our losses is just our execution. It hasn’t been the effort and it hasn’t been the determination. It’s just been the execution.”
The Wolves (33-41) lost their second straight home game and for the sixth time in seven games.
“They came out and hit us first,” guard Tyus Jones said. “They were making the extra pass, cutting hard. We came out a step slow and got ourselves in a hole.”