For about 45 minutes, by Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s estimation, the Wolves played some pretty good basketball against a very good Houston team at Target Center on Saturday night.
They got hands in faces at one end, put the ball in the basket at the other. They played with poise against a team that had won nine straight, rebuffing runs.
But there’s a problem.
NBA games are longer than 45 minutes.
Up by 12 points with 2:20 left in regulation after Karl-Anthony Towns scored, the Timberwolves stopped defending and starting having trouble at the offensive end. The result: a three-point-filled 14-2 Houston run to force overtime. And then another loss, this time 111-109 to a Houston team that has taken 112 three-point shots over consecutive games.
“I’d lie if I said I didn’t think we were going to win,” said Towns, who had 41 points, 15 rebounds and five assists but six turnovers while battling constant — and quick — Rockets double-teams. “I think we’re going to win when we step in the building. But especially when you’re up by 12 with three minutes left. So we all felt good about our chances.’’
Which made the final result more difficult to take.
Houston (21-7), which had set NBA records for three-pointers attempted (61) and made (24) in a victory over New Orleans on Friday, shot 51 more Saturday. Through three quarters the Rockets had taken 33 but made just nine. They stayed cold through much of the fourth.
But, down 12 late, the Rockets made four of their final five tries from behind the arc while forcing overtime. Then James Harden (28 points, 13 assists, nine rebounds) scored Houston’s first seven OT points, putting the Rockets in the lead for good.
This in a game the Wolves led by nine with a minute left.
“We had a compilation of mistakes,” Thibodeau said. “A team that can shoot threes the way they do, they can make up ground in a hurry. And they did. Turnovers hurt us, also.’’
Zach LaVine scored 24 points but turned the ball over eight times. Andrew Wiggins scored 13 on 5-for-17 shooting.
The Rockets’ Ryan Anderson, who scored 28, hit a three-pointer after Towns scored that cut the lead to nine with 2:04 in the fourth. Towns was called for an offensive foul, then missed a shot, and Eric Gordon (20 points) scored on a layup. After another Towns turnover Trevor Ariza hit a three-pointer to make it a four-point game. Towns hit two free throws with 36.8 seconds left, then Harden fed Anderson for a three-pointer. After blocking Wiggins at one end, Harden then set up Ariza for a three-pointer with 6.5 seconds left for a tie at 95. Out of timeouts, the Wolves were forced to inbound the ball from the baseline and didn’t get a good shot off.
Harden hit a three to open the OT, and the Rockets never trailed again.
“Houston is a team that can hit a lot of threes and miss a lot of threes,” Wiggins said. “And they were making them in the final minutes.’’
The result was the eighth time this season the Wolves have led by as many as 10 only to lose the game, one in which the Wolves had an edge in the paint (46-40), on second-chance points (19-11) and on the break (19-4).
“Houston is playing as well as anyone in the league right now,” Thibodeau said. “We played a very good game for 45 minutes of it.”
But not so much at the end.
“We just let one go,” Towns said. “I let one go.’’