LOS ANGELES – The Clippers were on a run in the second quarter Tuesday night after the Timberwolves had done an otherwise admirable job staying alive.
But as the Clippers piled up bucket after bucket, the Wolves were helpless to answer, and this 124-101 loss at Staples Center revealed one way the Wolves are going to miss Karl-Anthony Towns that will be hard to replace. When all else is failing, Towns is the kind of offensive talent who can act as a stabilizing force.
A bucket from him can stymie a run and lift a team's spirits on defense. When the Clippers were in the midst of a 12-0 run in the second quarter, the Wolves looked rudderless, and by the time halftime rolled around, they were down 20 on their way to their second consecutive loss.
Lou Williams had 20 points for the Clippers, who were playing without Kawhi Leonard for the second consecutive game. Paul George added 18 as the Clippers shot 53.4% in their first game after a 51-point loss to Dallas.
Part of the Wolves' struggles, according to point guard Ricky Rubio, stemmed from the Wolves playing "selfish" basketball.
"We didn't play as a team and trust the game plan," said Rubio, who had 17 points and five assists. "[Tuesday] we started the game the right way, but when things weren't going our way, everybody [was] playing selfish. We have to learn."
D'Angelo Russell had 22 points to lead the Wolves, but only eight of those came in the first half when the Wolves still had a puncher's chance. It's Russell who the Wolves should be able to look to as that catalyst and run stopper with Towns out, but against the Lakers and Clippers — two of the best teams in the West — Russell couldn't find his footing in that role, nor could anyone else.
"Guys are going to have to step into different roles and maybe not necessarily bigger roles, but roles where you got to do more for one another," coach Ryan Saunders said. "That's where we are."
The Wolves started with much more verve that they had in Sunday's loss to the Lakers and jumped out to a 16-9 lead.
When Anthony Edwards knocked down a pair of threes, the score was tied 39-39 2 minutes, 21 seconds into the second. Then the wheels came off, and there was nobody who could find the emergency brake.
It started with the Clippers scoring 12 consecutive points. That prompted a timeout from Saunders.
"You'd like to call a timeout every time that happens, but you don't have enough of those," Saunders said.
That timeout didn't slow the Clippers, who scored 13 of the next 18 points. After a three-pointer from Patrick Beverley, the Clippers led 64-44 with 3:56 left in the first half.
Saunders said the Wolves have to handle the little success they had in the first quarter better, saying the Wolves had to stop doing "our own thing" on both ends of the floor.
"When you start switching just to switch with it not being part of what we're doing with certain guys, that's going to cause confusion and miscommunication," Saunders said.
Added Rubio: "It's like a snowball. You make one mistake. It leads to another, and to another. There's not a way to stop that."
Jarrett Culver, who had been off to a solid start in his first three games, went 0-for-10 and didn't score in his first start of the season. For a longer range perspective, the Wolves are 2-2 and playing without Towns (dislocated wrist) and Okogie (hamstring strain) and there was a helpless feeling that emanated from each lopsided loss.
"I think we're competing but in the wrong direction," Rubio said. "When things are going bad, we go our own way and we don't play as a team."
It's a problem they need to rectify quickly.