ATLANTA - Karl-Anthony Towns spoke in a quiet voice as his bottom lip was bright red from a cut, a sign of another road battle that didn’t quite go the way Towns and the Wolves wanted. You might have understood if Towns’ tone was a little angrier after Wednesday’s 131-123 overtime loss to the Hawks, the second overtime loss the Wolves have had at the hands of Atlanta.
After scoring 37 points and grabbing 17 rebounds, Towns didn’t touch the ball on the Wolves’ final possession of regulation. With the score 118-118, Towns set a screen for Derrick Rose, who eventually put up a contested floater that didn’t come close.
Towns has previously said he’d like the ball in his hands during end-of-game situations, and Wednesday was no different, but he said he wasn’t upset with what transpired.
“Derrick is one of the best point guards that ever lived,” Towns said. “I’m OK with him taking that shot but obviously I wanted the ball so I can shoot. If we’re going to have him or [Andrew Wiggins] shoot the ball, it’s a good shot, especially at the end. I’ll live with that.”
What Towns and the Wolves can’t live with are more nights such as Wednesday, which looked like a lot of other nights they’ve had this season — a winnable road game that slips through their hands, typically because of slacking defense toward the end.
“We hope that one game isn’t going to affect our chances at the end,” interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “But you can point to a lot of ‘one games.’ We just need to bounce back.”
Against the Hawks an old bugaboo crept up and bit the Wolves — defensive rebounding. The Hawks had 23 second-chance points off 18 offensive rebounds. Atlanta’s young backcourt of Trae Young and John Collins took advantage of those extended possessions to score 36 and 34 points, respectively. Vince Carter, 42, added 17 off the bench for Atlanta while Andrew Wiggins had 21 for the Wolves, but needed 20 shots and had just three rebounds and one assist in 41 minutes.
“I feel like we let them get confidence right away,” said Rose, who had 18 off the bench for the Wolves. “And with any team in this league, we come out and give them that type of confidence, it’s hard to shut guys down no matter who they are.”
That was especially true late in the game as the Wolves and Hawks traded baskets down the stretch of the fourth quarter before Rose’s miss.
“I was just trying to figure it out,” Rose said. “Try to get as close to the rim as possible, and I thought I had a good shot, but it comes and goes. Just got to get used to it.”
In the overtime the Hawks scored the first seven points — and no Timberwolf but Towns scored. It shouldn’t have come to that for the Wolves, not against a team in rebuilding mode, especially when they had the lead most of the second half.
“We just got to be better as a unit,” guard Tyus Jones said. “Communicating, ball pressure, getting deflections, being there to help the ball handler. Everything — we just got to be better on that.”
Be better at everything. It sums up where the Wolves are at this season, one that isn’t lost yet, but because of hair-pulling losses such as this, is getting closer to that point.
“Made the same mistakes,” Towns said. “Cost us every time so we’ll learn one day.”
It might be too late when they do.