DETROIT – Unlike other road losses this season, the Wolves weren’t downtrodden after a 131-114 loss to the Pistons.
There was a lot of chatter and laughter as they got ready for a flight back to Minnesota, even if the Wolves are cognizant of the long odds stacked against them — as they fell to 6½ games out of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference following Wednesday’s loss.
But while the locker room has been a gloomy place other nights, including after a recent 0-3 road trip, Wednesday had a different tone, perhaps one of resignation, even if the Wolves still are saying the right things.
“It’s crazy to say but we’re still in it,” guard Tyus Jones said. “And we still have a chance and you got to keep going until told otherwise.”
Forward Taj Gibson, whose ejection for a controversial Flagrant-2 foul in the fourth quarter kickstarted a Detroit route, said he was “a little optimistic.”
“You never know, anything can happen as long as you win games,” Gibson said. “We still got to go out there and compete. Still got to have that kind of fight no matter the circumstances.”
The circumstances might be different if the Wolves hadn’t lost five straight road games, including Wednesday, which took a deflating turn for them after they led by 16 in the first quarter.
By the end, Gibson had hit the showers early, interim coach Ryan Saunders had picked up a technical in defense of Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns fouled out with 6:54 to play after scoring 24 points. Maybe he also wanted an early exit out of the mess this game became.
“In situations like that a number of times they can spark you,” Saunders said of Gibson’s ejection. “A number of times they can really put you down. Unfortunately for us, it put us down.”
The wheels had started to come off earlier for the Wolves in the Motor City.
After taking a 90-88 lead into the fourth quarter, the Pistons scored the first nine points of the quarter. After Gibson’s ejection, they put the Wolves away with a 14-3 run.
“Felt like we just let the rope go,” Gibson said.
Gibson was assessed a Flagrant-2 foul, which carries an automatic ejection for unnecessary and excessive contact, while battling Pistons center Andre Drummond for a rebound with 10:07 to play and the Pistons ahead 101-90.
Gibson appeared to make incidental contact with Drummond’s face before the rebound as he lost his footing, but officials determined it was severe enough to warrant Gibson’s ejection, much to the chagrin of Saunders, who picked up a technical channeling the frustration of Wolves fans everywhere.
Perhaps playing into the assessment was Drummond’s reaction to the foul. His Pistons teammates had to hold him back from going after Gibson, who the Wolves held back as well.
“I was just trying to box him out,” Gibson said. “I wasn’t purposefully trying to hurt him. At first, I didn’t know he got up. He just came at me. I was really going to try to help him up, but then his energy, I just didn’t like how his energy was after I tried to box him out.”
The Wolves didn’t have much to like about their own energy after Gibson left, and their energy around their season has also taken a different form.
“Each loss hurts more and more now at this point in the season,” Jones said. “We need every single game and need some help, so yeah, it hurts.”