SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Whether it was moments after the game itself or two days later at Friday’s practice in Sacramento, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s manner was the same when he discussed the first game that got away.
Calm and measured.
He even still had his voice strong when discussing on both occasions Wednesday’s season opener at Memphis. His team led 20-3 after five minutes and by four points with 3:09 left but lost 102-98 after the Grizzlies went on a decisive 12-3 run.
“He didn’t scream, nothing like that,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “He’s not always what you see on the court. He’s very organized and very consistent. He knows what he wants to say and when he wants to say it.”
Rather than rail, Thibodeau returned to the same methodology with which he has approached dual jobs as Wolves head coach and president of basketball operations since he was hired last April.
In the two days since that loss, he and his team went back to work in film sessions Thursday and Friday and at Friday’s practice.
Thibodeau smiled and chuckled when asked how many film sessions he had held with players since Wednesday night.
“We had a good session yesterday, a good one today, we had individual ones also yesterday,” he said after Friday’s practice. “Yesterday was a good day. They’re working hard. We know we have to get better. Going in, that was a big thing: To improve every day and to do it all year long.”
So Thibodeau and his coaching staff broke down Wednesday’s winning plays and losing ones. His starters moved the ball beautifully, made shots and defended in that 20-3 opening burst. Players from both first and second units failed to cover the three-point line when the Grizzlies shot themselves back into the game with 11 made threes. They fouled recklessly, particularly in the third quarter. They misplayed two baseline inbounds plays and argued with officials when they should have retreated on defense. They didn’t block out and allowed Memphis’ JaMychal Green a put-back tip on a missed free throw that put the Grizzlies ahead for good with 1:35 left.
Wiggins also missed two free throws that would have regained the lead with 1:13 left.
“We didn’t close out the game the way we would have liked,” Thibodeau said. “You want to take the things you didn’t do well, work on those and try to correct to them. But you also can’t lose sight of the good things that happened, to be ready to play the way we were.”
So Thibodeau evaluated both the good and bad these last two days, without lambasting or rattling a young team.
“He hasn’t been hot about it, but his message is clear,” said Wolves veteran point guard John Lucas III, who played for Thibodeau with the Bulls. “As long as the message is clear, it gets received the right way. He has always been like that [methodical and measured], but he’s bringing a different approach than he did in Chicago.
“It probably comes with maturity. It probably comes with time off and being around other teams and other coaches, how to approach it or not to approach it. At the end of the day, we all wanted to win that game. You could tell we had the game won.”
Until they didn’t.
“When we did things correctly, we were pretty good,” Thibodeau said. “When we break down and did things we shouldn’t have, it wasn’t good. We just have to keep working on it each day. You come in, learn, improve, get ready for the next one.”
That next one is Saturday night against a Kings team that beat the Suns handily in Phoenix to start the season Wednesday and lost 102-94 at home to San Antonio on Thursday.
Lucas said Thibodeau’s message has been clear and has been received.
“We had a different mind-set today, and you’re going to see a different team out there tomorrow,” Lucas said after practice Friday. “It was the first game of the season, jitters and everything, playing at their place. Now with that game under our belt, we’re going to be just fine.”