OAKLAND, CALIF. – His team’s playoff aspirations gone long ago, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau considered Tuesday’s 121-107 loss at Golden State something of a test of its character with now just five games left to play.
Playing the very night after they beat Portland nearly 2,000 miles away at Target Center, the Wolves lasted almost a half before a Warriors team aimed toward a third consecutive NBA Finals appearance ran away to a 23-point lead.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Thibodeau said. “For us, I wanted the mental toughness that you can overcome whatever your circumstances are.”
Those circumstances were back-to-back games so many miles and two time zones away after the Wolves-Blazers game scheduled for last month was postponed until Monday because of unsafe court conditions.
Leading by a basket early in the second quarter, the Wolves trailed by as many as 23 points in the third quarter to a Golden State team that is now 64-14 and has won 12 consecutive games.
“It was a track meet,” Wolves reserve forward Shabazz Muhammad said, “and we couldn’t get back.”
By the fourth quarter, Thibodeau pulled his starters from the game — none of them played more than Ricky Rubio’s 30 minutes — and finished up with Adreian Payne and Jordan Hill, among others, on the floor.
“At this point of the season, it’s more [about] toughness,” Rubio said after a 14-point, five-assist, five-rebound game. “We have to keep playing hard. We have to keep working hard. The first half, we did a pretty good job. The second half, the came out playing hard and we couldn’t stop that.”
The Warriors won Tuesday by outscoring the Wolves 41-22 in fast-break points and by outdistancing them 14-4 in three-pointers made. Klay Thompson made seven of those threes during a 41-point night while backcourt mate Stephen Curry made three more.
Golden State’s bench — namely Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West — also started off by making nine of its first 10 shots.
“I think we got better as the game went on,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “They were pretty tired, too. That’s a tough back-to-back, to fly in from Minneapolis last night. I think they wore down a little bit. Our defense wasn’t what it has been the last 10 or 11 games, but we got the job done.”
The Wolves might have been worn out by two games so short apart in time but so far away in place, but Muhammad didn’t show it on a 24-point, 11-rebound night. Eight of those 11 rebounds were on the offensive boards.
“He’s one guy I thought had a lot of energy from start to finish,” Thibodeau said, “but we needed everyone.”
In Wolves history, Tyrone Corbin, Tony Campbell and Trenton Hassell are the other wing players to get at least eight offensive rebounds in a game.
“I just always try to have energy when I’m on the floor,” Muhammad said. “That’s one thing Coach believes in me, having energy. That’s something I bring to the team.”
The Warriors now haven’t lost in more than three weeks, since back-to-back defeats at Target Center and San Antonio, after Kerr rested his four best players against the Spurs.
And they’re expecting to get injured superstar Kevin Durant back by Saturday, a week before the playoffs begin.
“They’re playing their best basketball right now, which is what you want to do,” Thibodeau said. “They’re going to be healthy going into the playoffs. You get Kevin back, and that’s a lot. They’re right up there, and now if they can maintain their health. … The fact they’ve been to two Finals in a row and the way they’re playing, they have to be optimistic.”
The broadcast crew of Marv Albert, Mike Fratello and Lewis Johnson will work Thursday’s game at Portland on TNT.