On another night, it might have been a celebration of milestones. Andrew Wiggins’ career night, Jarrett Culver’s career best, Karl-Anthony Towns restored health.
But, even for a team claiming to be immersed in the process rather than obsessed with the result, it was another tough game to take. In a too-familiar case of diminishing returns, the Timberwolves started out hot against Toronto on Saturday at Target Center, but ended, well, not, in a 122-112 loss to the savvy Raptors in front of an announced crowd of 16,520.
The Wolves shot nearly 60% in the first quarter, just 36% in the second half. Against a veteran, tough team that continues to win in the post-Kawhi Leonard era a season after winning the NBA championship, the Wolves found themselves lost in a succession of second-half Raptors runs.
“We knew they were going to be a team that plays physical defensively,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “They try to take you out of things. They force your offense to start higher when they’re putting great ball pressure on you.”
In the face of this pressure, the Wolves offense wilted. Minnesota led by four at the half, but Toronto started the third quarter on a 25-11 run to take control of the game, as it turned out, for good. Another 19-1 run in the fourth quarter cemented the loss, the fifth in a row for the Wolves (15-27). Toronto (28-14) won its third game in a row.
This despite Wiggins’ first career triple-double — 18 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists. And a career-best 26-point performance by rookie Jarrett Culver. For Wiggins — who had the game ball in his locker — and Culver, this bodes well for the future.
“It’s always been a goal of mine,” Wiggins said. “So to get it done? Hopefully there are more to come now.”
But the present remains frustrating.
The Raptors shot 50.6% and got 57 points from the starting backcourt of Fred VanVleet (29) and Kyle Lowry (28, with 17 coming in the third quarter).
“If they come out and want to be aggressive, we’ve got to be just as aggressive,” said Towns, who scored 12 points in 27 minutes in his second game back after missing the previous 15 with a sprained knee and an illness. “If they want to be tenacious, we’ve got to be tenacious.”
Lowry had 14 points as the Raptors turned a four-point halftime deficit into an 83-73 lead on his two free throws with 3:44 left in the third.
The Wolves cut that lead to two early in the fourth on Culver’s three-point play. But the Raptors then scored 19 of the game’s next 20 points to go up 110-90 with 7:01 left on Serge Ibaka’s layup. That lead grew to 22 less than a minute later.
The Wolves took 50 three-point shots and made 14 of them (28)%. It was the third time in seven games they had set a franchise record for three-point attempts.
“I felt like they adjusted well,” Wiggins said of the Raptors in the second half. “And they came out with a bang. I feel like that little stretch in the fourth, they got that lead and it was hard to come back from that.”
The Wolves couldn’t. And so, another lesson, this time dealing with a physical team. To Saunders, the only option is to exceed the other team’s energy.
“With young teams I think sometimes it does take a little bit of time,” Saunders said. “But we can speak on the process of growing up and maturing and getting on our way to becoming a good team in this league by getting used to that and really exceeding some of these veteran teams’ physicality.”