INDIANAPOLIS – No longer an ongoing oddity in NBA history, the Timberwolves lost their perfect road record with Friday night’s 107-103 defeat to the Pacers.
Until then, the Wolves hadn’t lost away from Target Center, but they hadn’t won there, either. They are the only team in NBA history to go 0-4 at home and 4-0 on the road in its first eight games.
Playing their fourth game in five nights and with point guard Ricky Rubio out for a second consecutive evening, the Wolves trailed by 27 points late in the third quarter and yet pulled within 101-100 with 78 seconds left before the Pacers pushed them away for good by scoring five unanswered points.
Asked if it felt strange to lose a road game, Wolves young star Andrew Wiggins considered the question for a moment and said, “Oh yeah, this is the first time. Yeah, it does.”
The Wolves pushed back for the second consecutive night, slashing away at their deficit by improvising lineups until they found one that worked.
Interim coach Sam Mitchell called upon 39-year-old guard Andre Miller to play the final 15 minutes vs. the Pacers while sliding temporary starting point guard Zach LaVine over to shooting guard.
It was a move that sent the Wolves on a 36-14 run that got them back in the game and left them wondering about what-ifs.
Such as: What if either LaVine or Shabazz Muhammad had been able to corral a Miller pass along the sideline after Nemanja Bjelica stole the ball and briefly gave the Wolves possession and the chance to take the lead with 55 seconds left?
But the ball fell between them and bounced out of bounds, and the Pacers’ ensuing 5-0 run put the game away.
“Stuff happens,” Wiggins said, shrugging his shoulders after matching LaVine’s 26 points for his team’s scoring high. “It’s all part of the game.”
Mitchell started Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince on the second of back-to-back games, a defensive combination he has used to provide stable starts. It gave the Wolves a 27-24 first-quarter lead, but with both players back on the floor, the Pacers changed the game with a 12-0 run late in the first half and a 15-7 run early in the third.
That turned a 43-41 Indiana lead into a 76-57 advantage after the Wolves offense struggled too much, too long to score.
“Our guys, I’m proud of the way they played,” Mitchell said. “The problem is when you get down like that, you have to play perfect. We didn’t hit a shot here, committed a foul there. But we’re learning to play. We’re learning how to grow up and be mentally tough. There were a lot of good things in that game.
‘‘… I have a smile on my face because I learned something different about our basketball team tonight.”
Among other things, he learned Wiggins is discovering how to play through a sore knee that sidelined him Tuesday. He learned what LaVine can produce when he is aggressive, moved off the ball to shooting guard and when, as LaVine said afterward while declining interview requests, not feeling well.
“Andrew’s getting better before our guys, Zach is growing up before our eyes,” Mitchell said before including rookie Karl-Anthony Towns, Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng also in that group. “I’m disappointed in the loss but proud of how our guys played.”