OAKLAND, CALIF. – Nearly 2,000 miles away from Monday’s tense victory over Portland at Target Center, the Timberwolves lost 121-107 Tuesday night at Golden State in maybe the most far-flung, back-to-back games you’ll see.
Competitive for nearly a half on Tuesday, the Wolves allowed a Warriors team intent on running them to exhaustion 11 of the first half’s final 17 points. They then surrendered a 15-4 run in the third quarter on a night Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau considered a test of his team.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Thibodeau said afterward. “For us, I wanted the mental toughness that you can overcome whatever your circumstances are.”
The Warriors haven’t lost since the Wolves and San Antonio beat them on consecutive nights more than three weeks ago. With superstar Kevin Durant set to return as early as Saturday from a knee injury sustained at February’s end, they also looked primed to make a run for the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season.
“They won like 12 straight,” Rubio said. “They know when to ramp it up and they’re doing it.”
The two-hour time difference between Central and Pacific zones presumably helped the Wolves some with their back-to-back travels.
Asked if playing nearly 2,000 miles and two time zones away had any effect, Wolves young star Andrew Wiggins said, “Maybe down the stretch. I shot two airballs in the first quarter. You’ve just got to keep going. We’ve got two more back-to-backs still. We’ve just got to get with it.”
Wiggins scored 24 points Tuesday. So, too, did reserve forward Shabazz Muhammad, who also had 11 rebounds off the bench.
“He’s one guy I thought had a lot of energy from start to finish,” Thibodeau said, “but we needed everyone.”
Thompson scored 23 of his 41 points in Tuesday’s first half and where he might have left off, Curry took over on a night when he made two of his first 10 shots and then made his next four on his way to a 19-point, 9-assist night.
Included were consecutive three-pointers made, the second one a perfect rainbow that caused him to hide his head in a towel at its improbability – or maybe given his history, its probability.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr playfully patted him on the head, just for a finishing touch.
“I think tonight he was angry with himself,” Kerr said. “He has been in such a good groove and did not have a good fast half. He didn’t have it going. He was angry. You could see he had the competitive fire in his eyes.”
Not long after, Curry grabbed a ball right in front of the Wolves’ bench, turned as if he was going to launch yet another three. Instead, he flung a perfect behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala for a lay-in and the Warriors led 99-78 late in the third quarter.
The Warriors could have Durant – sidelined by a sprained ligament and bruised bone in a knee – back by Saturday, just in time for the playoffs.
“I watched him play -- 3-on-3, 4-on-4 -- a couple times now,” Kerr said before Tuesday’s game. “He’s defending and driving and doing all the basketball stuff that he normally does. Hopefully, he keeps taking strides in the next couple of days.”
The last time these teams played, the Warriors were the ones affected by a stretch in the schedule where they flew across the country twice in short order to satisfy the national-television schedule.
At stretch’s end, they lost to the Wolves at Target Center on a Friday night, then lost again at San Antonio the next night when Kerr rested his four biggest stars – Thompson, Curry, Iguodala and Draymond Green – for a Saturday prime-time game televised by ABC.
Those two games were the last two times the Warriors lost.
Their winning streak on Tuesday hit 12 games and 24 days, too, since that March 11 loss to the Spurs.
“You can’t characterize it as a run because this is what they’ve been doing for years,” Thibodeau said.
It won’t help the Wolves now, but Kerr said before Tuesday’s game that Green and Iguodala both won’t play Wednesday in Phoenix because each needs the rest before the playoffs begin next week.
• Rookie Kris Dunn entered the game in the first quarter’s final seconds, back in action after he didn’t play Monday’s second half. “I just didn’t like the way the game was going,” Thibodeau said. “Then we got into a little rhythm. Other than that, he’ll be fine.”
• Golden State’s JaVale McGee received a flagrant foul type 1 after a shoving match with Gorgui Dieng late in the first quarter. Both players received technical fouls, too.
• A former NBA player, general manager, broadcaster and now coach, Kerr almost hired Thibodeau as Phoenix’s top assistant in 2007. “He had just gotten the (GM) job there, we talked, I went out to visit,” said Thibodeau, who went to work for Doc Rivers as Boston’s associate head coach instead. “It almost happened.”
• The Wolves will visit Oracle Arena for two more seasons before the Warriors’ new San Francisco arena is due to open in 2019.