MILWAUKEE – Even in the afterglow of Friday’s home victory over Golden State, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and point guard Ricky Rubio already were thinking about Saturday’s game in Milwaukee.
Thibodeau wanted his team to concentrate on that next one as soon as his team landed in Milwaukee late Friday night. Rubio suggested progress built in an overtime loss at San Antonio and home victories over the L.A. Clippers and Golden State in the past week “doesn’t mean nothing if we lose tomorrow.”
Tomorrow came Saturday and the Wolves lost 102-95 to a Bucks team that now has won six consecutive games with star Khris Middleton back into the lineup after he missed the season’s first 50 games because of a ruptured hamstring.
The Wolves, meanwhile, lost for just the third time in their past nine games.
They did so on a night when they trailed 95-93 with 2:49 left but then went scoreless against shot-swatting All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks until the game’s final four ticking seconds.
Antetokounmpo blocked two shots in the final 2½ minutes, allowing the Bucks to turn the Wolves back after Ricky Rubio scored seven consecutive points for his team on his way to a 22-point, eight-assist performance.
Antetokounmpo was one of seven Bucks who scored in double figures — Tony Snell had 19, Antetokounmpo 18 — on a night when Karl-Anthony Towns’ 35-point, 14-rebound game was his franchise-best 20th consecutive 20-point game and it still wasn’t enough.
Antetokounmpo’s defense and the Bucks’ double-teaming also helped limit Andrew Wiggins to an 11-point game on 3-for-13 shooting.
With the clock ticking on their season and just 17 games left, every loss looms as a bigger step backward than a victory moves them forward.
“Here’s the thing and the games keep coming,” Thibodeau said. “You’re talking about one of the hottest teams in the league right now. This is six in a row for them. They’ve gotten players back. You have Giannis, who presents a lot of problems, but getting Middleton back is big for them and they’re playing well. So I knew that coming in that we were going to have to be our best.”
They weren’t near enough their best, not after their early 5-0 lead quickly became a five-point, first-quarter deficit, not after they allowed the Bucks two of their eight three-pointers in the first half’s closing minutes and certainly not in that final 2:29 when the Wolves couldn’t make a layup or a tip-in.
“We missed a lot of layups, we didn’t finish well,” Thibodeau said. “Yep.”
Was that tired legs on the second night of back-to-back games — the Bucks played such a set, too, but both were at home — or maybe something else?
“I think bad luck,” said Wolves reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica, whose layup at the rim in the final minute somehow still came up short. “I don’t think I ever missed that many in my life. But this is part of basketball. We really played hard until the end. The last was bad, but we just need to keep working, keep playing, that’s it. We played a very good game.”
Glum in a postgame scrum with reporters, Thibodeau lamented his team’s start to the game and the fourth quarter as well as its first-half finish, a laundry list that suggested the Wolves didn’t lose the game solely in the final three minutes.
“It wasn’t at the end that cost us the game,” Towns said. “Throughout the game, we made some mistakes that added up at the end. There are a lot of things that add up to a loss. We made some mistakes that I know we wished we didn’t make. We’ve got to move on to Monday.”