NEW YORK – It was the same frustrating combination of ingredients, even if they were mixed in a little different way. Bad quarter, spurts of good play, a lead lost, questionable defense, a quiet locker room.
“We have to change our mind-set,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.
He’s said it before, of course. And again Friday, when the Wolves dug an early hole, then had the bench rally them to a late lead only to have the defense collapse again in a 118-114 loss to New York, Minnesota’s second to the 10-9 Knicks in three days.
With a lineup of mostly reserves playing as well as it has all year, the Wolves, down 10 entering the fourth quarter, rallied to take a 102-101 lead on Zach LaVine’s transition dunk with 6:34 left in the game.
And then the Wolves defense wilted, the Knicks went on a 13-4 run and the result was the fourth straight loss and the seventh in eight games for the Wolves (5-14).
In a strange reverse of Wednesday’s 106-104 loss, this time the Wolves bench nearly was the salvation while the starters struggled. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 20 points with eight rebounds. But he missed 13 of 18 shots and didn’t score until there was 1:18 left in the first half. LaVine had 21 points and Andrew Wiggins 19. But the Wolves were outscored 24-8 to start the game, and then again down the stretch.
Afterward Thibodeau vowed to keep working, saying he could see progress, though small, being made.
But not fast enough for some.
“We can see it, sometimes,” LaVine said. “But then we revert right back to what we do. And that’s everybody. It’s really hard to see progress when you should be winning games and you keep doing the same things, over and over. We have to fix it. I want to see progress in the win column. We need to win.”
Wiggins held Carmelo Anthony to 14 points Wednesday. Anthony scored 29 on Friday. This time Knicks backup center Kyle O’Quinn dominated inside with 20 points and 13 rebounds, Knicks guard Derrick Rose scored eight of his 24 points in the fourth quarter as the Knicks pulled away.
After the Wolves took their only lead of the game, they missed nine of their 11 shots with three turnovers and the Knicks secured the victory.
O’Quinn scored on a putback, then was fouled and made two free throws. After Wiggins scored, Rose took over, scoring five straight points.
New York hit on 12 of 31 three-pointers and turned 13 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points.
Lost in the disappointment was the improved play of rookie guard Chris Dunn, Cole Aldrich’s first double-double for the Timberwolves and the 47 points scored by the Wolves bench, which was playing so well Thibodeau almost didn’t put his starters back in the game in the fourth quarter.
“Winning is hard in this league,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a competition, it’s not a show. Look at the teams that win consistently, they do all the dirty work, put all the things necessary into winning.”
And the Wolves aren’t winning much these days. LaVine was asked about the defense, about how it seemed the players were just a little slow getting to where they needed to be.
“It’s like we see it but we don’t react quick enough,” he said. “Myself, I see a pass, the pass lane, and I’m a second late getting to that steal or to that contest. It’s frustrating. I can see where we are making progress, but we have some of the most athletic people in the world, we should be doing it.”