ATLANTA – The Timberwolves went through an emotional tailspin in the third quarter of their 134-122 loss to the Hawks on Tuesday night.
Guard Anthony Edwards, who was playing in front of his hometown crowd, picked up two quick technicals in succession a little more than halfway through the quarter and exited a promising night with 20 points.
Center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had been snippy with officials all quarter, then had a made fadeaway jumper wiped away at the end of the quarter, with officials on review saying he committed a flagrant foul for kicking Atlanta's Onyeka Okongwu in the process. He had previously picked up a technical for taunting Okongwu, crew chief Bill Kennedy said in a pool report.
Anger unraveled, and so did the game, with Atlanta erasing a 16-point Wolves lead in a flash to grab an easy victory in that third quarter.
The night called for some explanations as to why Edwards and Towns got the calls they did. It also called for some big-picture perspective, which guard D'Angelo Russell delivered in saying the Wolves "need losses like this."
"When adversity sets in, we're either going to go about it the right way or let it roll over and affect us the next play and the next play, and the next guy's mad," said Russell, who had a team-high 31 points. "It's just a contagious domino effect. I think that's where we got to be better."
Amid Towns' complaining and Edwards' outburst, the Wolves' 73-61 halftime lead crumbled as Trae Young torched them for 23 of his 37 points in the third quarter after guard Patrick Beverley left in the first half because of a right ankle sprain. The Hawks, who had six players in double figures, led by 13 after the third and cruised through the fourth.
Russell's point was if the Wolves have designs on being a playoff team, they can't let calls like Wednesday's affect them, no matter how tough they were.
That still didn't mean the calls were easy to take. Edwards, who did not speak to the media, was upset after he wanted a foul on a drive with 5 minutes, 57 seconds to play. He picked up one technical, continued to say something to the official and quickly got another one.
"The first was for an overt gesture and the use of profanity directed toward an official," Kennedy told a pool reporter. "The second was for aggressively approaching the official while continuing his use of profanity."
Officials told Wolves coach Chris Finch that Edwards' ejection was for "two separate incidents."
"But I didn't necessarily see it that way," Finch said.
Finch said Edwards apologized to his teammates. This was Edwards' first ejection. This wasn't the first time emotions appeared to get the best of Towns and affect him and the Wolves.
"Telling the truth in this league gets you fined, so I'm good," Towns said. "No comment."
Officials went to review Towns' shot to see if it beat the buzzer and upon seeing the play again, they assessed him a flagrant foul and removed the basket, creating a five-point swing at the end of the third quarter.
"It was observed during the review that a flagrant foul was committed by Towns for kicking the defender, therefore nullifying the basket," Kennedy said.
"I didn't even know that was possible," Finch said of the officials adding the flagrant foul on a time review.
The larger issue on display was Towns' continued antagonistic relationship with officials. Towns' incredulous looks and gestures are all too familiar, and Finch has said the team has been speaking with the league about how referees officiate Towns.
"His frustration is extremely palpable and justified at times," Finch said. "I watch him go in there nice and strong and just getting hit. … I can see where he gets frustrated with that stuff."
At the same time, Russell said Towns has to not let his frustration and anger get the best of him and bleed into the rest of the team.
"It's a fine line of being solid when you need to be solid," Russell said. "There's a time to be rah-rah and rowdy with the refs and whoever you're battling against, but figuring out that time where it doesn't affect the team, too."
Towns, to save his wallet, didn't feel much like talking about the officials — just talking to them.
When asked how he can handle his emotions better, Towns said, "Just keep breathing."
"That's all I can say. Just continue to breathe. Pray and just it is what it is. Fight through whatever adversity you got to go through to get the win."