ATLANTA – Even after they already had lost to Brooklyn, Orlando and Phoenix (twice), just how did the Timberwolves lose 105-100 to an Atlanta team that brought the NBA’s worst record to Philips Arena on Monday night?
Let us count the ways.
Did they lose it by any number of mistakes in the game’s final six minutes, including a botched sideline inbounds play when they trailed by a point with 14.5 seconds left?
Or did they lose it in the third quarter, when they led the Hawks by 11 points and couldn’t deliver the knockout punch?
“A loss is a loss,” Wolves star Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t point to any certain part of the game, just the end. We didn’t win.”
An impressive 24-9 against Western teams so far this season, the Wolves lost for the 12th time in 20 games against the East.
This time, they were whistled for successive technical fouls on veterans Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson with less than six minutes left, transgressions that cost them just a point with 5:46 left and the score tied when Dennis Schroder missed one of two ensuing free throws.
“Sometimes you’re not going to get calls on the road, and we didn’t,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We can’t react that way.”
With 1:27 left, Hawks guard Kent Bazemore saved his team two crucial points when he ran Teague down from behind and blocked his fast-break layup with the Wolves trailing by a point.
With 1:03 left, Gibson scored a putback basket and drew a foul, but missed the ensuing free throw that would have tied the score, just as Bazemore had missed one seconds earlier.
Still trailing by a point, the Wolves had a timeout, the ball and the chance to take the lead with 14.5 seconds left. But without another timeout to call, Teague couldn’t get the ball inbounds within five seconds when the Hawks collapsed around Butler.
Afterward, Teague said he thought Jamal Crawford was headed into the game during their last timeout.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Teague, who made one of 12 shots from the field and scored only two points, blaming it on what he called a sore wrist in his return to Atlanta.
“Jamal was supposed to be in the game and then he wasn’t … We had a miscue. The whole play was just all bad. We were just all messed up, and we didn’t have a timeout. It’s all bad.”
After the turnover, the Wolves were forced to foul and the Hawks made four consecutive free throws to end the game. In between each pair, Butler slipped before launching a potential tying shot that missed with 3.4 seconds left.
“You’re going to be mad come late in the season, but I feel our group is a tough group,” Gibson said, referring to a growing list of losses to teams with some of the NBA’s worst records.
“As far as taking teams lightly, we have to do better. We have to do a lot better against teams that aren’t playing for the same aspirations we’re playing.
“We have to do better, myself included. I have to do better.”
In a grueling January (they play the month’s 17th game Tuesday in Toronto), the Wolves have lost twice to a team that owned all or half of the league’s worst record. Two weeks ago, they lost at Orlando, which had won only once in the previous six weeks.
On Monday, they lost to a Hawks team that’s now 15-35, but also inexplicably has won its past six home games against Western Conference opponents.
Their list of vanquished includes San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah, Denver and Portland.
“It’d be great to beat an Eastern Conference team, too,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer quipped before the game. “We play a lot of them.”