OKLAHOMA CITY – Ryan Saunders’ head was sweating as he tried desperately to hold back his anger in his postgame media scrum.
Inside the Timberwolves locker room, Karl-Anthony Towns has his head buried in his hands as stunned silence came over the room.
Everyone was sitting in front of their lockers. There was complete silence, nobody milling about or hitting the showers as usually happens, win or lose. That stunned quiet said everything about how the Wolves felt after Friday night’s 139-127 overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
What would have been a hard-fought, comeback victory without Andrew Wiggins (sprained left thumb) turned into the Wolves’ most devastating loss of the season, one that didn’t just break their hearts, but stomped on it and smooshed it into the ground.
“I ain’t never been a part of something like that,” Towns said.
The game swung improbably with the Wolves up 121-119 with 1.1 seconds remaining. The Wolves had just come back from down 10 in the fourth quarter behind a monster final stretch from Towns, who finished with 30 points and eight assists.
Towns was at the foul line to ice the game. He missed the first free throw. Then the Wolves attempted to make multiple substitutions. Jordan Bell, who had been on the floor moments earlier, checked back in, his jersey untucked. Oklahoma City guard Chris Paul pointed it out to official Scott Foster, who called the Wolves for a delay of game — which resulted in a technical foul, since it was their second delay-of-game warning.
“Jordan Bell came into the game with it untucked and down to his knees at midcourt, observed by myself and then Mark [Ayotte] from trailing me and then it was assessed a technical foul,” Foster told a pool reporter after the game.
He said he and Ayotte noticed it when asked who pointed out the call. He did not mention Paul’s involvement, though Paul confirmed he did tell officials about it.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I just noticed it … ” said Paul, who finished with 30 points. “We do play a game. Some nights you’ll have official who will just be like, ‘Tuck it in. Tuck it in.’ ”
The Wolves were beside themselves. Multiple times, Saunders said a variation of “Are you kidding me?” on the court. He didn’t feel like elaborating on the call after the game. Bell declined to talk to reporters.
“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time and I’ve never seen that before,” guard Josh Okogie said.
Danilo Gallinari made the technical free throw, but the Wolves still led by one, and Oklahoma City was out of timeouts. But then a series of unfortunate events, almost comedic in their tragedy, took place.
Towns intended to miss the next free throw, but the ball bounced off the backboard and in for a two-point lead. On the inbounds pass, Steven Adams lobbed a perfect full-court toss to Dennis Schroder, who, after a lot of contact with Jeff Teague (32 points), got the ball up for the tying layup. When asked if there was a foul on the play, Saunders said, “No comment.”
Shellshocked, the Wolves crumbled in overtime as the Thunder outscored them 17-5.
“[It was] very hard,” Robert Covington said. “You can tell by how we were out there. … That was a depleting play at the end.”
Now the Wolves have 48 hours to move before their next game at the Western Conference-leading Lakers. Covington also reflected on what else the Wolves could have done, like a late turnover when they were up two, but he also added: “It’s hard to sit up here and play a game with two refs. That’s difficult. You just got to move forward.”
Eventually the silence in the Wolves locker room ended after about 15 minutes. Players were up, getting ready for the flight to Los Angeles and there was even laughter back in the room. The time for sulking was over. But it won’t be a night they will soon forget.
“We put all our marbles into that one second and let our guard down and we never picked it back up,” Towns said.