The leadup to Tuesday's play-in game between the Timberwolves and Clippers, as well as the immediate aftermath of an unlikely 109-104 Minnesota victory, had distinct vibes to them.
Some Wolves fans in the hours before the game, once the officiating crew was revealed, became utterly convinced that Scott Foster, Ed Malloy and Tom Washington would revel in the opportunity to blow their whistles in favor of the large-market Clippers while leaving the plucky, mid-market Wolves to complain.
And ... the Wolves did complain. So did fans. Karl-Anthony Towns quickly found himself in foul trouble, part of an abysmal first quarter in which it looked like the All-Star completely forgot how to play basketball.
(Clippers players also got into foul trouble).
Los Angeles players racked up trips to the free throw line. There was a decision early in the third quarter not to assess a technical foul on Marcus Morris Sr. in a mini dustup with Patrick Beverley — a call that looked suspicious but had practical merit. Morris already had one technical foul. Getting ejected in that situation (which Beverley initiated) would have been ludicrous.
By the end ... KAT had fouled out with more than seven minutes to play. He had earned all of those fouls, the symbol for a Wolves team that bickers and gets thrown off its game when it perceives the calls aren't going their way.
But also: the Wolves shot 10 more free throws than the Clippers (and held an edge even before L.A. had to intentionally foul late) by game's end. The Clippers were called for two more fouls than the Wolves.
It was not a perfectly officiated game, with a few missed calls each way. But it was more or less even, even if some fans were still perceiving slights after the game.
If this is a defense mechanism against something bad happening — a prearranged excuse — it is perhaps understandable given that very little playoff success has found the Wolves or other men's pro sports teams in this market lately.
But it is as misguided as criticism of the postgame vibe: Sure, the Wolves celebrated like they had earned more than just a playoff trip. Pardon them for an expression of joy, a catharsis, a culmination of hard work.
Shame on TNT and anyone else for trying to steal that joy.
Sometimes when you win a game, you don't decide how you are going to celebrate. You just react. That's what happened late Tuesday, and the Wolves should be commended.
Now it's on to Memphis, where hopefully the conspiracy theories and the fun-shaming won't be an issue.