DETROIT – Last Sunday seems so far away now.
Only three days after a joyous and improbable buzzer-beating victory at Oklahoma City, the Timberwolves on Wednesday followed Tuesday’s lifeless home loss to Indiana with another lopsided defeat at least its equal, if not worse.
Their 122-101 loss to a Pistons team that had seemed equally adrift after its last loss started with the Wolves scoring the game’s first nine points.
From there, the Pistons finished the game at downtown’s new Little Caesars Arena on a 122-92 run, you might say. They outscored the visitors 40-18 in the second quarter alone, outdid them in rebounds 47-37, assists 32-19 and three-pointers 15-9.
Detroit power forward Tobias Harris’ 34-point performance included six made threes and an inspired 14-point performance off the bench by Henry Ellenson of Rice Lake, Wis., didn’t hurt any either.
In the words of both coach Tom Thibodeau and young star Karl-Anthony Towns: The unselfish, ball-moving Pistons also handed the Wolves their, uh, hats.
Just what has happened on consecutive nights without three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, out ill because of an upper respiratory ailment that in a way maybe has infected a whole team?
“We’ve lost our way a little bit and until we change our mentality in some aspects, there will be similar results,” Wolves 18-year vet Jamal Crawford said. “Basketball is a humbling game, and you have to respect it or else it will humble you.”
Fellow veteran Taj Gibson used the same word — humble — to describe a team that was high on its last-second victory Sunday in Oklahoma City and now is reeling.
“That game at OKC, you get a couple of pats on your back and then you come home thinking everything will be easygoing,” Gibson said after Wednesday’s game. “We got humbled by the Pacers last night. Tonight, we come out with a little bit of energy and set the tone the right way and then we just laid an egg in the second quarter and didn’t play well the rest of the night.”
On Tuesday, the Wolves reserves tried to rescue a starting five that stumbled with Shabazz Muhammad starting in Butler’s guard spot. On Wednesday, the Pistons mostly abused the Wolves reserves in a second quarter that swung from the Wolves’ 26-23 lead at its start to a 63-44 deficit by halftime.
“Tonight, it was the opposite,” Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to get it straight.”
The Wolves never got closer than 13 points late in the game, and quickly there is panic among fans in Wolves nation.
“That’s this league,” Thibodeau said. “Things can change very quickly, from going good to going very poorly. It can also change back again very quickly.”
The Wolves started the season 2-1 against 2016-2017 Western Conference playoff teams San Antonio, Utah and Oklahoma City. They are now 0-2 against two Eastern Conference teams that probably will scratch just to reach the playoffs.
Those past two losses came with Butler home ill but feeling better Wednesday, Thibodeau said.
Or at least maybe until Butler watched Wednesday’s game. Asked before the game what Butler said about Tuesday’s loss, Thibodeau paused, grinned and said, “He said we need work.”
Ditto after Wednesday’s loss when Towns and Andrew Wiggins couldn’t carry the Wolves despite their combined 44 points.
“Of course, we miss Jimmy,” said Gibson, who played six seasons with Butler in Chicago. “Of course, we’re going to need Jimmy to win games. But we have more than enough to get the job done. I’ve been in this league a long time. I’ve won games with less than the talent we have in here. It’s all about believing and coming together. We’re still a young group. We’re still trying to work the kinks out.
“But we’ll get there. I promise we’ll get there.”