TORONTO – Before Thursday’s 124-110 victory over the Timberwolves, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was asked how he’d exploit the opposition’s youthfulness.
He replied by saying, “I want to do what Charlotte didn’t do,” referring to the Wolves’ dramatic comeback victory just five days earlier.
This time, the Wolves couldn’t rescue themselves with three three-pointers made in the fourth quarter’s final 39 seconds and win in overtime, as they had Saturday in Charlotte.
This time, too many fouls and too many rebounds allowed — particularly of the offensive kind with the game on the line — vexed them once again.
So, too, did a fourth quarter in which they were outscored 36-21, including a 13-3 run in which a Raptors team led by its Olympic Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan backcourt scored nine unanswered points.
Until that fourth quarter, the Wolves had built separate leads of nine, 10 and 12 points in the first half and played through their usually troublesome third quarter well enough to lead 89-88 entering the final quarter.
“We just have to hold onto those, man,” Wolves guard Zach LaVine said after he scored 29 points and Andrew Wiggins added 25 in his return to Toronto.
Afterward, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau admired the connectedness of a Toronto team that’s 15-7 and would be best in the East were it not for a fellow named LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. Meanwhile, center Karl-Anthony Towns talked about his team and its disconnect.
“The difference is they stay disciplined and continue to run their game plan, continue to execute,” Towns said. “For us, we get disconnected and get undisciplined.”
Coached by Thibodeau on last summer’s U.S. Olympic team, Lowry and DeRozan combined for 19 points in the fourth quarter. Lowry finished with 25 points and DeRozan had a 27-point night that he punctuated with a put-back dunk over Ricky Rubio in the game’s final minute.
Rubio ended up holding the back of his head in pain, searching for a foul call that never came.
By then, the Raptors led by 11 points and it was all but over, everything, that is, except for two coaches who both preached defense afterward.
Casey admired his team for it in the fourth quarter, but wondered where it was until then.
“If we’re serious about going anywhere, about doing anything special, our defense, our attention to detail and our passion for defense has to pick up,” said Casey, who coached the Wolves a decade ago. “We finally woke up in the fourth quarter, but we can’t live like that and expect us to do anything special.”
Thibodeau called for his team’s improvement, again.
“The defense, we have to correct it,” he said. “We have to get it better. Until we get that straightened out, it’s going to be a problem.”
The Wolves sent Toronto to the free-throw line for 13 attempts in the fourth quarter. Included was Kris Dunn’s fly-by foul that Lowry turned into a rare four-point play that turned a two-point game into a 102-96 lead with 7:17 left.
The Wolves never got as close as two points again.
“There are good fouls and bad fouls,” Thibodeau said, speaking about his team’s fourth quarter in general, “and if you’re fouling jump shooters, it’s never a good thing. If you’re doing it repeatedly, you’re not learning.”