CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With under two minutes to play Friday and the Timberwolves down three, D'Angelo Russell skied a lob pass to Rudy Gobert. The play seemed like it was about to end in an easy dunk for Gobert.
But Gobert, playing through a sprained left ankle, mishandled the pass, and the Wolves came up empty. That wasn't the only missed connection between Russell and Gobert in what was a 110-108 loss to the Hornets.
"That lob was perfect," Gobert said.
The lob might have been perfect, but the end wasn't, much like the imperfect performances the Wolves have turned in over most of their previous five games, all wins. But that streak came to an end thanks to a disastrous third quarter in which Charlotte outscored the Wolves 39-21 and turned a 10-point Wolves halftime lead into a 14-point Charlotte lead early in the fourth quarter.
After the missed connection with Gobert, Russell turned away from the play and smacked the ball in frustration. Soon after, Russell was letting out some more frustration following loss against a shorthanded, struggling team the Wolves likely should have defeated.
Russell discussed how the Wolves can be more consistent within games to prevent leads like that from slipping. His tone of voice wasn't loud, but it was forceful.
"Guys are grown men," Russell said. "You're either focused on doing what you got to do to help the team win, or you not. Then we gonna lose. Grown men. You either do it or not."
That comment might strike some as ironic considering Russell is often the focus of criticism when it looks like the Wolves are dawdling their way through a game. That wasn't the case on Friday for Russell, who continued his strong play with 20 points and was one of the few players who could make a three on a night the Wolves shot 9-for-41 (22%).
Before his interview session ended, Russell was asked about his developing chemistry with Gobert. His response was one sentence.
"He catch the ball, he'll score," Russell said.
A few minutes later, Gobert responded to what Russell had to say and said he thought their chemistry was "better than it was two weeks ago." He also acknowledged he could do a better job reining in more passes.
"Sometimes I fumble it," he said. "Most of the time, I get it and something good happens, as long as we can keep that trust and I can try to put myself in the right spots for him to find me."
Later he said: "Passes are not going to be perfect. I've got to be able to give him even more confidence and make sure I catch all of them. I think we're going to get to that point."
As a team, the Wolves seemed like they were at a point they had put days like Friday behind them. Charlotte came in without injured guard LaMelo Ball and was one of the worst shooting teams in the league. But the Wolves' defense allowed the Hornets paths to the hoop, especially in the third, and even a bad shooting team can make layups.
"Came out with not very much energy and not very much focus and not a lot of purpose," coach Chris Finch said. "We haven't done that for a long time. That was kind of our habit at the beginning of the season."
Kelly Oubre Jr. led Charlotte with 28 points. Anthony Edwards had 25 for the Wolves while Karl-Anthony Towns' hundreds of millions of dollars couldn't buy a three. Towns (19 points) was 1-for-11 from deep and 6-for-22 overall.
"I had a lot of them I felt really good about," Towns said. "They didn't go in. … One of those nights. I've been having one of those seasons where I just can't shoot. So, I got to figure it out."
The Wolves were scratching their heads on a number of fronts. They thought games like Friday were behind them. Instead, some old problems re-appeared. Russell wasn't having any of it.
"For us to be more consistent in our approach is a maturity thing. It's as simple as that," he said. "We're either going to have that business approach or we ain't, and we're going to have inconsistent games."