A few steps forward followed by a huge step back. Such is the frustrating rhythm of a young team trying to figure out how to win.
The Timberwolves had a relapse Friday night at Target Center in a 109-105 loss to Sacramento. It was a four-quarters-long defensive relapse that reached a peak in the final quarter when they just couldn’t seem to get a stop.
That’s why, afterward, everything seemed so familiar. Coach Tom Thibodeau talked about connection on defense. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. The players spoke of their frustration after a modest two-game winning streak — the team’s first of the season — came to an end.
“People try to do too much,’’ said a clearly upset Karl-Anthony Towns, who spoke tersely, with his arms crossed, before heading down to the practice gym to put up shots after he missed two wide-open corner three-pointers in the final 23 seconds that would have tied the score.
“We try to do too much sometimes. You try too hard. That’s what we did, there, in the fourth quarter.’’
Up seven points entering the fourth quarter, the Wolves allowed the Kings to score on each of their first five possessions of the quarter, a 12-7 run that pulled them within two.
And it didn’t get better. In the Kings’ 31-20 fourth quarter they shot 11-for-17 overall and 4-for-8 on three-pointers, scoring 12 points in the paint and 12 from behind the arc. After managing to outscore the Kings through three quarters — thanks mainly to Zach LaVine and his career-high 40-point night — the Wolves offense ground to a halt, with the team shooting 28.6 percent in the final 12 minutes.
Asked about LaVine’s game, Thibodeau frowned. It was a loss, so what did it matter?
“I didn’t think anybody played well,” Thibodeau said. “You can score points. Somebody is going to score. But did you make winning plays, defensively and offensively? When you allow a team to shoot 52 percent, make 15 threes and you’re up seven going into the fourth quarter? That’s very disappointing.’’
DeMarcus Cousins scored 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter. With him hitting jumpers, the Kings were able to space the floor. Then, time after time, the Wolves would overhelp on dribble penetration and the result would be open three-pointers. Former Timberwolves player Anthony Tolliver (17 points) hit two fourth-quarter threes, as did Ty Lawson (15 points).
That was enough to spoil the 40 points from LaVine, 20 from Towns, 15 from Andrew Wiggins and 13 points and eight assists from Ricky Rubio.
“We didn’t take anything away,’’ Thibodeau said. “We were trying to outscore ’em, and we gave ’em everything. We gave ’em the paint, we gave ’em the three. We lacked discipline. There were stretches when we played well defensively. But you can’t pick and choose, you can’t rest, you can’t take plays off. Until we understand that, it’s going to be up and down.’’
In short, the problems that had plagued the team so often in the opening weeks of the season came back, quickly, especially in the final 12 minutes.
“We needed to get some stops,” said LaVine, who scored 25 in the first half. “We’ve been doing it in the last couple games, but tonight wasn’t that effective.’’
And his big night?
“It really doesn’t matter,” LaVine said. “It’s a loss. I feel like it should have resulted in a win, and it didn’t.’’