SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Three nights after they lost an early 17-point lead and the season opener at Memphis, the Timberwolves kicked away an 18-point, second-quarter lead Saturday in Sacramento and lost 106-103 due to a lopsided third quarter that peeved coach Tom Thibodeau called an “abomination.”
After watching Sacramento outscore his team 31-12 in that quarter — including a 24-1 run during which the Kings scored 17 unanswered points — he deemed his team lacks toughness of all kinds.
“Everything: Mental toughness, physical toughness, emotional toughness, all aspects of it,” he said afterward. “Every team has two or three primary scorers, and they’re going to put pressure on you and you have to respond. It’s not any one person’s responsibility. It’s the entire team’s. We have to get tied together and have discipline …
“The third quarter was a problem, a big problem. We have to get a lot tougher. That’s what I see.”
On Saturday, the Kings had veteran stars DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay — and they were plenty. Wolves big men Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Karl-Anthony Towns used most of the fouls they had trying unsuccessfully to counter Cousins’ smash-mouth style, but his 29-point, seven-rebound performance proved decisive before he fouled out in the game’s final minutes.
Gay added 28 points in a game in which the Wolves trailed by 10 points early in the fourth, tied the score three times and ultimately lost after they played the final 6½ minutes without starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who sprained his right elbow.
The Wolves flew home Sunday for Tuesday’s home opener against Memphis. Rubio will be evaluated before the team practices Monday.
No more Timberpups?
The Wolves had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds, but Andrew Wiggins’ 21-foot jump missed and so, too, did Dieng’s off-balance put-back attempt.
“That wasn’t enough, man,” Dieng said afterward at his locker stall next to teammates Wiggins and Zach LaVine. “Just coming back wasn’t enough. We lost two games already. We just try to win. That’s all that matters to me right now. We invest a lot of stuff this summer to try and get better. The time is now. This is my fourth year, Wigs’ third year, Zach’s third year. There are no more young puppies here. We just have to man up and play harder.”
Monday 11 p.m. is the deadline for the Wolves to sign Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad to contract extensions or each will become a restricted free agent next summer.
A four-year extension for Dieng is possible; a Muhammad extension is less likely. Thibodeau on Saturday said the team is talking to both players’ agents and said, “We’ll see how it goes.”
“I haven’t thought much about it; it’s something they’re discussing,” Muhammad said. “It’s my job to go out there and play the game. I know it’s a big season for me. I know I have to go out and play hard every game like it’s my last …”
Atlanta on Wednesday signed starting guard Dennis Schroder to a four-year, $70 million extension.
“I let my agent do his job and I’m going to do what I like, playing basketball, trying to get wins,” Dieng said. “That’s where I’m focused. It’s an honor to be here and do what I love. Whether they extend me or not, it’s not something I’m worried about.”
In Wigs he trusts
Thibodeau put the ball in Wiggins’ hands far from the basket to create shots and plays in Saturday’s final minutes, a decision he said he’ll make even when Rubio is healthy. Doing so kept defenders’ hands off Wiggins and spurred an 8-0 run that pushed the Kings to the final second.
“That’s part of what we’re going to do for him in the fourth quarter,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a very good pick-and-roll player. He can get something out of that.”
Rookie Kris Dunn on playing the game’s final, tense 6½ minutes with the starters after Rubio was injured: “That’s the type of minutes I like to play and that’s the type of atmosphere I like to be in. They’ve been telling me since the offseason that you never know, somebody might go down, somebody might get sick. So you just have to stay ready.”