ORLANDO – Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns’ coach said there’d be nights like these. But when Wednesday’s 104-101 overtime loss at Orlando came, the No. 1 overall draft pick might not have thought the agony of defeat brings real pain.
For several long moments afterward, Towns sat his locker stall, his contorted face covered partly by one of his massive hands, the look more of a man suffering a migraine than the seventh loss of his young pro career.
Leading by 14 points at halftime and then again by as much in the third quarter, the Wolves trailed by five with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then Towns and fellow No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins demonstrated what they could and probably will be someday by pushing their team to overtime, thanks to Wiggins’ scoring and Towns’ shot blocking.
Once there, though, Magic guard Evan Fournier sent the Wolves home from a fast Florida trip 1-1 after he made two clutch three-pointers that won the game in the final 69 seconds of overtime.
Raised in Paris’ suburbs, Fournier played his team’s first game since Friday’s terrorist attacks and made one spinning, lunging three that put his team back into the lead with 1:09 left and then hit the winner over Wolves designated defender Tayshaun Prince with only 3.1 seconds left.
Somebody was going to get back to even at .500 on Wednesday and the Magic, now 6-6, was that team.
Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said before the season began that his young team would have to lose games in the final minutes before they learn how to win them, but …
“It hurts, it hurts to lose a game like this,” Towns said. “We did everything we thought we needed to do.”
The pain was palpable, just like it had seven months earlier when Towns’ University of Kentucky team’s 38-0 season ended with a Final Four loss to Wisconsin.
“It hurts because it makes me feel a lot like when I was playing in college and lost to Wisconsin,” Towns said. “Things like that, close games that we should have won. This moment brings back bad memories.”
In it, Mitchell sees the promise of his two young stars: Wiggins again took his team upon his back offensively down the stretch, scoring 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and tying the score at 93 with a spinning, banked shot in the lane with 2.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Towns asserted himself defensively, blocking a career-high six shots and sending the game to overtime by swatting away a short, potentially game-winning shot at the fourth quarter’s buzzer.
“Our young guys are learning,” Mitchell said. “They’re growing up fast. They’re playing in every situation. We’re asking a lot of our two young guys, of all our young guys.”
The learning moments, though, of such a night might not have come in the final, ticking seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, but rather in that third quarter when the Wolves allowed the Magic to score the first six points and later let Orlando go on a 15-0 run that changed the game.
“We have to be ready in the fourth quarter, and we weren’t,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “They made shots and we didn’t, but that’s not the lesson.
“The lesson has to be if you want to win on the road, you have to be 48 minutes focused. … Games like that you will remember down the road when you’re fighting for the playoffs, or not fighting anymore because of games like that.”