LOS ANGELES – The Timberwolves scattered from Los Angeles late Sunday night for a three-day Christmas break.
They’re probably going to need every bit of it and then some to recover from a 120-116 overtime loss to the Clippers that was all but won in regulation time.
Instead, the Wolves lost for the third time in four games and fell back two games under .500 when they failed to protect a two-point lead in the fourth quarter’s final 10 seconds and then ultimately squandered individual performances from their Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic frontcourt tag-team.
Love’s 45-point, 19-rebound night and Pekovic’s career-high 34-point, 14-rebound game just weren’t enough. The Wolves committed a damning turnover with eight seconds left in regulation time, missed free throws they later would need and then watched Pekovic miss three shots at the end of fourth quarter and overtime after he had scored at will nearly all night.
“We just blew it, blew the game,” Love said afterward. “I don’t know how else to say it. We blew the game.”
The Clippers extended their winning streak to five games, winning on a night when they lost agitating reserve forward Matt Barnes to a flagrant foul type 2 ejection in the third quarter and lost star Blake Griffin when he fouled out in the opening minute of OT.
Asked if it was the most bitter loss of the season, Love said, “Absolutely, 100 percent.”
The Wolves led by seven points with less than six minutes remaining and by four with 18 seconds left, but they gave it all away when Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul swiped a ball away from Kevin Martin with eight seconds left in regulation time and Jamal Crawford scooped up the ball and delivered a two-handed slam dunk that tied the score at 106 with 7.7 seconds left and inevitably forced overtime.
Ricky Rubio pushed the ball down the floor and found Pekovic, who missed not one but two chances to win the game but neither fell.
“I scored them like all game,” Pekovic said.
In overtime, Jared Dudley’s three-pointer with 38.6 seconds left gave the Clippers a 115-114 lead they never relinquished.
Pekovic had a chance to tie the score with four seconds left in overtime, but his short hook shot hit the rim and rolled off.
Like Love beside him in the locker room afterward, Pekovic agreed it was the season’s most heartbreaking loss.
“Yeah, I think so because we got some shots to win the game but we didn’t score,” he said. “I got a shot I didn’t score. We just need to keep our heads up and come back more.”
Someone asked Pekovic about the Wolves squandering a game that included performances such as his and Love’s.
“That’s also one of the things that really hurts when you see all this,” he said.
Love criticized his team’s performance when it mattered most.
“Execution, being strong with the ball, you know, everything,” he said. “We blew it.”
When asked if a particular play stood out, he said, “That’s a loaded question. You can probably figure this one out.”
Martin lost the ball to Paul when the Wolves needed to protect it and force the Clippers to send them to the free-throw line with the clock ticking out and a two-point lead. He also wildly threw the ball that resulted in a Darren Collison breakaway layup two minutes into overtime.
“Part of the game, I’ve been through it a thousand times, but I’m going to stop there,” Martin said. “I bought some expensive [Christmas] gifts for my family, so I’ll just stop there.”
Wolves coach Rick Adelman, too, did not want to risk getting fined by the NBA for what he might say.
His entire postgame address lasted about eight seconds.
“It was a tough game for a lot of reasons,” he said. “That’s all I have to say. I’m not going to get fined. I’m not going to say anything else.”