In the end the loss was difficult to take but not hard to explain.
The New York Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, a star, tailor-made to fill the go-to role late in games. And that's something the Timberwolves, at least until Kevin Love dons a uniform again, are lacking.
Friday night at Target Center, Ricky Rubio looked like his old self, Luke Ridnour at times looked unstoppable and Derrick Williams looked to be taking another step as the Wolves forged an 11-point lead with 7 minutes left.
But then Anthony took over. He scored 12 of his 36 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game as the Knicks took a 100-94 victory.
The Wolves expressed frustration at having lost for the 14th time in 16 games, expressed skepticism at the calls Anthony got at one end down the stretch and the calls the Wolves didn't get at the other. But the fact is, one team had a closer and the other didn't.
"He's one of the best scorers in the NBA, if not the best," said Williams, who scored 19 points while attempting -- along with Mickael Gelabale and Dante Cunningham -- to slow Anthony. "You just try to battle him the whole time. I tried my best. Myself, Mickael, DC, we all did. But in the fourth quarter they just kept going to him."
This after the Wolves had taken control of the game. Ridnour had 12 of his 20 points in the third quarter, including eight as the Wolves finished it with a 10-2 run and took a 76-70 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Knicks pulled within four early in the fourth, but Williams had six points -- including a slam off a pass from Rubio -- and the Wolves used a 9-2 run to go up 87-76 on Williams' 17-footer with 7:16 left.
And then? "I told Raymond, 'I'm going to try to go get it,' " Anthony said, referring to teammate Raymond Felton.
J.R. Smith (15 points off the bench) started it with a three-pointer. Then Anthony was fouled and hit two free throws, scored on a 9-foot floater and then a driving layup with 4:14 left that cut the Wolves' lead to three. Williams missed at the other end, then was whistled for a foul covering Anthony, who hit two free throws at 3:34. Moments later Anthony hit a 7-foot running hoop, giving the Knicks a 92-91 lead.
Cunningham scored, but Tyson Chandler answered with 1:42 left to give the Knicks the lead for good. Anthony's 19-footer moments later pushed the lead to three.
Rubio scored at the other end, then the Wolves got the ball after a shot clock violation. They came out of a timeout with 33.1 seconds left, and Ridnour's shot from the left block was blocked by Chandler, though he and the Wolves clearly believed he had been fouled.
It was the Wolves' last, best chance.
"To me it's a foul," said Ridnour, who felt he was jostled by two players. "But [the official] didn't see it that way."
And so the Wolves (18-29) found a way to lose again while the Knicks (32-16) won for the sixth time in seven games. It didn't help that Minnesota went 1-for-13 on three-pointers, or that the Wolves missed three key free throws in the fourth quarter.
It was a loss, despite Rubio scoring a season-high 18 points and getting his second double-double, Ridnour scoring 20 points, Williams 19 and center Nikola Pekovic scoring 16 with 11 rebounds.
"I felt good on the court, but it doesn't feel good when you lose," Rubio said.
The Wolves ended their homestand 1-5 and now face back-to-back road games.
"Really tough loss," coach Rick Adelman said. "Our guys played well. If we keep playing like that we are going to win games."
But Anthony made sure that didn't happen Friday. "He's a superstar, he's a scorer, he makes everything look easy," Rubio said.