These are what growing pains look like. A hard drive to the basket one moment, a turnover off the knee the next. A three-pointer to give the team hope, followed by a weird foul that leaves everyone in the building infuriated.
The young Timberwolves will have many more nights like Monday. Count on it. Tough nights, hard nights, frustrating nights.
But guess what? Nights like Monday will help the development of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio.
This is what their season is all about, young players being tested and learning how to win when their shots don’t fall and they make silly fouls and they give up offensive rebounds and everything seems to be going against them, including the officiating.
A 106-101 loss to Portland was disappointing and maddening for a litany of reasons. The Wolves alternately played inspired and lethargic. They made enough mistakes on both ends to fill a two-hour video session.
Throw in a few head-scratching calls by officials in the final two minutes and Target Center nearly reached boiling point.
“We just made bad mistakes at the wrong time,” interim coach Sam Mitchell said.
My takeaway? The emotion in the building, the aggression of Towns in crunch time, Wiggins’ urgency down the stretch.
This was Flip Saunders’ vision. Maybe not the loss and all those mistakes. Not the stagnant offense.
But Saunders knew there would be lessons his youngsters had to learn in the building process he meticulously mapped out for the team he loved so dearly.
The arena burst with emotion after a beautiful tribute to Saunders, a tearful home opener without the organization’s patriarch on the bench.
The night began with sorrow, but Flip would have been proud of the atmosphere. It’s what he wanted, a packed house and Minnesotans to feel enthused about the NBA again. He wanted nothing more than for Target Center to be loud and fun.
And it felt that way again, finally. Hopefully there will be more nights like this to come.
“We played for Flip,” Wiggins said.
Saunders’ vision has provided hope, but his vision also understood reality. Growing pains are inevitable. The Wolves won’t be able to take shortcuts to respectability. They will have to earn it.
The Wolves pounced on the Trail Blazers early and then slowly unraveled. They looked disjointed on offense and hopeless on defense against the ruthless Damian Lillard.
But the youngsters showed some fight, and the Wolves stuck to a script that should guide them all season.
They went to Wiggins and Towns with the game on the line. They put the game in their hands, to win or lose.
This is how it must be — good, bad or ugly.
The future is Wiggins and Towns. The only way for them to grow and develop into stars, or superstars, is through trial by fire.
Some nights they will finish the job. And some nights, like Monday, they will fall short.
Wiggins looked sleepy throughout the game until he started posting up with conviction, demanding the ball.
Towns drained a three that cut Portland’s lead to two and gave the Wolves a needed spark.
But then things swung the other way. Wiggins was stripped making a move to the basket. Turnover. Towns lost the ball on a determined drive to the basket. Another turnover.
Neither player shied away from the moment, though. Both made costly mistakes, but they wanted the ball. And the Wolves wanted the ball in their hands.
It just didn’t work out this time. “Some plays didn’t go our way,” Towns said. “We just need to execute a bit on our side. The game isn’t decided on one play. It’s a lot of plays, it culminates.”
Their mistakes culminated in a loss, a frustrating loss because they had played so inspired in the first quarter.
We can gnash our teeth over sluggish offense, the lack of a backup point guard, the inability to slow down Lillard or questionable officiating.
The Wolves simply didn’t play well enough to win. There will be more games like that.
Growing pains aren’t easy, but they’re necessary for the young Wolves to achieve their former coach’s vision and plan.