LOS ANGELES – The Timberwolves arrived at Staples Center for a Sunday matinee against the Los Angeles Clippers searching for a fourth consecutive victory as well as a winning record one month into the season. They left instead with a lesson in how a playoff team competes with both muscle and poise after a 107-99 defeat.
Trailing by as many as 16 points in the second quarter and by 15 early in the fourth quarter, the Wolves pulled within as few as five points in the closing minutes but never any closer after Clippers All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul delivered the aforementioned lessons on poise when it mattered most.
Griffin repelled the Wolves repeatedly, scoring at one point on three consecutive jump shots that included a three-pointer. The Clippers did so as well with veteran guard J.J. Redick’s shooting and the play of Paul, who scored his team’s last six points to finalize a game between two teams that began the day with 8-8 records.
The Clippers started the season by winning their first four games and losing eight of their next 11 before beating New Orleans at home on Friday and the Wolves on Sunday. Before the game, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said his team will begin playing like one built for the playoffs and for title contention when the time is right.
“It would be great if this would be the time,” he said, “but you’re ready when you’re ready.”
It looked Sunday like that time is coming closer.
“Like I told our young guys after the game, we learned something today,” Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell said. “We do understand that’s a very good basketball team. They’re going to be in the playoffs. They got two all-stars. They made shots at the end.”
Playing without starting point guard Ricky Rubio for the second consecutive game, the Wolves learned how an experienced team with veterans such as Griffin and DeAndre Jordan uses its size and strength defensively, before the ball reaches its opposition.
“If we’re ever going to be a playoff team, we have to play with that kind of physicality,” Mitchell said. “You have to do it before your guy gets the ball and you have to learn to play that way without fouling. I think we learned a lot. I’m proud of our team, the way they battled. I thought our young guys got better.”
They also learned how an all-star or two plays with that poise and pace with the game on the line.
“That’s a good duo,” said Wolves star Andrew Wiggins, who led his team (21 points) in scoring for the 10th time in 12 games. “They’ve been together a long time. There’s chemistry.”
Somebody asked Wolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns afterward what mental notes he might have taken while watching two stars, one of whom has been in the league for a decade.
“Just be calm, patient and let the shots come to you,” Towns said. “They’ll always find you.”
The Wolves sporadically fouled Jordan — a 40-percent free throw shooter — down the stretch, sending him to the free-throw line four different times in the final 2 ½ minutes in an unsuccessful attempt to get closer.
Jordan made at least one of two shots three of the four times.
“That’s the chance you take,” Mitchell said. “You’re giving the guy a dead ball and the chance to shoot free throws. If he makes one out of two, the strategy doesn’t work.”