Here are two different ways of saying the same thing:
In a corner of the Timberwolves locker room Thursday at Target Center, a while after Minnesota’s 102-99 loss to Denver, Andrew Wiggins knew one thing for sure. This was getting frustrating. As for an answer as to why?
“The third quarter got us again,’’ he said.
A few minutes earlier, at his locker, Karl-Anthony Towns described it like this: “It seems like we keep having half the puzzle done, and we don’t finish the puzzle.’’
For the Wolves (1-3) it was a very similar story. For the third time in three losses, the Wolves started the game on fire only to be extinguished in the third quarter. For the third time the Wolves built a first-half lead of 15 points or more only to see it disappear in 12 minutes of third-quarter play that nobody seems to have an answer for.
But on a night when Towns scored 22 of his 32 points by halftime, when Wiggins scored 25 and the Wolves opened the game hitting seven of their first eight three-pointers, once again everything ground to a halt after halftime.
Thursday it was a 33-14 third quarter for Denver, one in which the Wolves stopped moving the ball, started having lapses on defense, then dug a deeper hole when players started to rectify things all by themselves.
In last week’s loss in Sacramento, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau called his team’s third quarter an abomination. Thursday he could see it coming.
“It started earlier in this game,’’ he said. “End of the first quarter, it ended with us trading baskets with them. It was fool’s gold.’’
He was talking about a 37-point first quarter in which the Wolves shot nearly 57 percent and had a 15-point lead with 1:52 left in the quarter.
But the Nuggets (2-2) cut that to 12 entering the second, and got within six at halftime. And then, for the Wolves, the bottom fell out again.
Minnesota shot 5-for-20 overall, missing all seven of its final three-point attempts. Denver, which got 19 points from Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler and 18 from center Jusuf Nurkic, used physical play to take control. Both Gallinari and Nurkic had nine in the third, with Chandler getting seven for Denver, which used a 16-2 run to take control.
Down 13 entering the fourth, the Wolves second team got Minnesota back in it. Nemanja Bjelica had 10 of his 14 points in the fourth, as the Wolves got as close as two on Towns’ free throw with 2:43 left.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome that third-quarter stretch of barren play.
“I think part of it right now is, when things aren’t going well, the intentions are good to try to get us out of the hole,” Thibodeau said. “But we can’t do it individually. It has to be done collectively. We got bogged down.’’
So, back to the drawing board.
“That third quarter is just haunting us right now,’’ Wiggins said. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what’s happening. We just can’t keep coming out like that after halftime. But we’re going to figure it out.’’
So, back to work.
The Wolves will practice Friday, then head to Oklahoma City to begin a three-game road trip that will include games at Brooklyn and Orlando.
Like Wiggins, Towns said the team would figure it out.
“We have to finish the puzzle,’’ he said.