OKLAHOMA CITY – There were so many ways Friday night’s 139-127 loss to the Thunder went wrong for the Timberwolves, so let’s dive right in and take a look at the makings of the Wolves’ most devastating loss of the season.
First, Towns’ leads them back
Karl-Anthony Towns was quiet for most of the second half. He entered the night with a sore right knee, but he led the Wolves, who were without the injured Andrew Wiggins (sprained left thumb) into position to win the game. Towns (30 points) had just one field goal attempt in the second half until the 3:48 mark of the fourth quarter.
Then he was almost unstoppable, scoring nine points down the stretch and playing great defense to help the Wolves get a 121-119 lead in the first place. But after that almost nothing good happened for the Wolves.
Mistakes before the crushing blow
There were two possessions the Wolves had before Towns’ final free throws to try and put some distance between them and the Thunder. These possessions played a big part in the loss, although they won’t be as heavily discussed.
After Towns secured a rebound off a missed Dennis Schroder layup, the Wolves had an inbounds pass following a timeout with 17.7 seconds remaining.
But there was a bad pass from Josh Okogie that Shabazz Napier couldn’t corral. The Thunder’s Luguentz Dort fell on the loose ball and Oklahoma City called timeout, their last of the game.
It resulted in a missed shot from Chris Paul with Towns contesting at 6.6 seconds remaining. Jordan Bell grabbed the rebound and was fouled. This was not who the Wolves wanted going to the free-throw line in this situation, but Bell was on the court for his defense and he got the rebound. Bell is 65% free-throw shooter for his career, and he missed both attempts.
However, the Wolves got a reprieve when Josh Okogie leapt and got the rebound on the second free throw with 1.1 seconds remaining. The Wolves called timeout, and got the ball inbounded to Towns afterward.
Then Towns stepped to the line. What happened next will be etched in Wolves’ fans memories for a while.
The deciding sequence
Towns missed the first free throw, and then the Wolves tried subbing for defense. That meant Bell went back onto the court, jersey untucked, and got called for the Wolves’ second delay of game resulting in a technical. The Wolves’ first delay of game came in the third quarter, when Towns tried to sub in late for Gorgui Dieng. He couldn’t get the wraps off his knees in time for referee Scott Foster, who made the call then and also the call against Bell after it appeared Paul pointed it out to him (though Foster told a pool reporter after the game he and fellow official Mark Ayotte noticed Bell’s jersey untucked).
Even after Danilo Gallinari made the technical free throw, the Wolves were still in good shape up one. The Thunder were out of timeouts, meaning they couldn’t advance the ball after a rebound or make.
Towns confirmed afterward he was trying to miss the second free throw, which would’ve meant a Herculean effort for the Thunder to get the ball advanced far enough in 1.1 seconds to even have a decent look for the win. But Towns’ shot hit off the backboard, off the rim and went in, allowing the Thunder to inbound the ball and get something organized.
That something was a deep heave from Steven Adams to Schroder, who was engaged in a lot of contact with Teague, like a receiver and a cornerback jockeying for position in a football game. Saunders said “No comment” when asked if he thought Schroder fouled Teague. Schroder came up with the ball and the layup, sending the Wolves spiraling through overtime.
“I knew the ball was going long. I didn’t recognize how far it was and with my injury I couldn’t get there,” said Towns, who was battling right knee soreness. “You saw what happened.”
Overlooked on the play -- Adams' accurate heave to Schroder.
The Wolves didn’t hide the fact that they weren’t focused in overtime after what happened at the end of regulation.
“You can tell by how we were out there,” Robert Covington said. “Some of the shots we took, we were stagnant a little bit. I think that was a depleting play at the end.”
Added Towns: “We showed you. We didn’t play well in overtime at all. I think we put all our marbles into that one second and let our guard down and we never picked it back up.”
Covington said the Wolves had to be sure Bell, who declined to talk to reporters, didn’t take the delay of game too hard.
“We can’t put all that on him,” Covington said. “You have to understand that it was other things that led up to it.”
And that was certainly true.