Less than two minutes into the third quarter against Denver at Target Center on Wednesday, after his team had missed two shots and turned the ball over twice, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau called a timeout.
Miss, turnover, turnover, miss, miss. You get the idea.
After the Wolves played a workmanlike first half and built a six-point lead, a fourth-quarter lineup of mostly reserves tried to clean up the mess the starters had made, but couldn’t quite do it.
A difficult 12-minute stretch of bad basketball in the third quarter doomed the Wolves to a 103-101 loss, one that ended their five-game homestand at 3-2 after consecutive losses.
“Poor defense, turnovers,” Thibodeau said.
“We just didn’t play as hard,” offered center Karl-Anthony Towns.
“Too many points,” forward Robert Covington said. “Too many points.”
All true. In taking a 35-18 advantage in the third quarter, the Nuggets (11-7) hit 14 of 24 shots (six of 11 three-pointers), turned seven Wolves turnovers into six points and held the Wolves to fewer baskets (five) than turnovers (seven) to build an 85-74 lead entering the fourth.
Even a spirited fourth-quarter comeback — down 13, the Wolves scored 12 in a row to pull within 89-88 on Dario Saric’s basket with 7:03 left — wasn’t enough. Still within one after Derrick Rose hit a three-pointer with 4:44 left, the Wolves starters struggled down the stretch.
Towns scored 22 points with seven rebounds, but also had six turnovers. Four of them came in the third quarter when the Nuggets double-teamed him and the Wolves failed to take advantage.
“When you have two on the ball, we should get some really good looks at threes,” Thibodeau said. “That’s how you get open looks.”
Didn’t happen. Instead, frustration with the game and with the way it was being called appeared to affect the Wolves, compounding an already difficult stretch.
Rose scored 20 points off the bench, 10 in the fourth quarter with a group that included Saric, Tyus Jones, Gorgui Dieng and Covington.
Denver, which broke a two-game losing streak, got 25 points from Paul Millsap, who shot 11-for-13 and scored 12 third-quarter points. Jamal Murray scored 11 of his 18 in the third, hitting three of five three-pointers in the process.
“We didn’t execute,” Towns said. “We didn’t come out ready in the third quarter, and they were ready. And that’s what led to our demise.”
But, almost: The Wolves’ 12-0 fourth-quarter run started with two free throws by Rose with 9:06 left. Then Jones took a pass from Saric and scored, forcing a Denver timeout. Out of that break, Dieng stole a pass to Jokic. Rose then fed Saric for what turned into a three-point play. After a Nuggets turnover, Rose calmly hit a trey from the top of the key.
At the other end Dieng blocked Gary Harris driving layup, leading to Saric’s basket with 7:02 left and another Denver timeout with a 13-point lead cut to 89-88.
But the Wolves went three possessions without a point, and Harris’ three-pointer with 4:55 left put the Nuggets up four. The Wolves couldn’t execute enough down the stretch to get out of that third-quarter hole.
“We just didn’t get enough stops,” Covington said. “They were too comfortable. They were in a rhythm, and we didn’t do enough to disrupt ’em. Thirty-five to 18? We shouldn’t have allowed that.”