Tense, terse, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s short postgame press conference included some clipped, short answers.
The gist: You have to be at your best in the fourth quarter. And Minnesota wasn’t.
During the Wolves’ 10-5 start to the season, one thing they did was close out games.
Up 11 points after Shabazz Muhammad made two free throws with 9 minutes, 57 seconds left, the Wolves were outscored by 14 points the rest of the way and lost 100-97 to Detroit in front of 16,069 fans at Target Center.
In a nutshell: On offense the ball stopped moving, the shots stopped falling. On defense, the middle pick-and-roll with Detroit guard Reggie Jackson and center Andrew Drummond proved nearly impossible to stop.
As a result the Wolves’ three-game winning streak ended. And Minnesota (10-6), which plays at Charlotte on Monday night, is now 4-1 in one-possession games.
Jimmy Butler scored 26 points, his high in a Wolves uniform, to go with 10 rebounds, five steals and four assists. Andrew Wiggins had 24 and center Karl-Anthony Towns had 16. But Towns and Butler combined for just five shots and one field goal in the fourth quarter.
Detroit? The Pistons (11-5) shot 42.2 percent while falling behind by nine through three quarters. In the fourth the Pistons went 12-for-19, with Jackson, Avery Bradley and Drummond going a combined 11-for-13. Detroit scored on its final nine possessions.
“We have to finish it up in the fourth,’’ Butler said. He was fouled on a three-point attempt with 6.7 seconds left in the game. He made the first two, but missed the third. Butler was 72-for-76 on clutch free throws over the last two seasons before that final miss.
“We couldn’t get stops,’’ Butler said. “We all saw it. They made shots, man. That’s part of this league. It just hurts to lose that way. What can you say? Got another one tomorrow.”
The Jackson-Drummond pick-and roll really started, well, rolling, shortly after a Wiggins basket had put the Wolves up six with 5:08 left. Over the next 4-plus minutes Jackson scored nine points, Drummond four; Jackson’s jumper with 20.7 seconds left put the Pistons up three.
“That pick and roll in the middle was effective,’’ said Wolves forward Taj Gibson. “Drummond was a load coming down the lane. We tried to run ’em off the line a couple times, but they made some tough shots. But in that fourth quarter, that pick-and-roll hurt us.’’
Three of five Wolves starters had three or more turnovers; Butler and point guard Jeff Teague had five each. But, down the stretch the problem was more a stagnant offense and a suddenly lenient defense.
“We didn’t play our best in the fourth quarter,’’ Thibodeau said. “The fourth quarter is different. I thought, for the most part, our defense was pretty good the first three quarters.”
It happened despite Thibodeau playing his starters for most of the fourth quarter. All five starters played between 8:45 and 10:54 of the final 12 minutes, with four starters finishing with 38 or more minutes played.
“We have to make better decisions,’’ Wiggins said. “Stay aggressive. They blitzed the pick-and-rolls a little bit. We just have to keep moving the ball, creating, making shots for everybody.”