DALLAS — After the Timberwolves’ loss to Memphis on Sunday, there was befuddlement and a little bit of frustration on the part of the players and in the voice of coach Ryan Saunders.
On Wednesday, after their 121-114 loss to the Mavericks, there wasn’t as much angst after hanging with one of the best teams in the West in their building. But there was still a tinge of disappointment and emptiness over a game they could have had.
“I thought we had a good, competitive practice [Tuesday] and it showed in a lot of areas,” Saunders said. “We just wish that fourth quarter there were things that were done a little better.”
That was underselling it a bit. For three quarters the Wolves had keep the most efficient offense in the NBA from operating at peak performance. They also prevented MVP candidate Luka Doncic (22 points on 8-for- 22 shooting, five turnovers) from tearing them apart the way other elite scorers have this season. Credit for that goes to Josh Okogie, who took on the assignment of guarding Doncic and did a commendable job.
But in the fourth the Mavericks couldn’t miss, and the Wolves did nothing but watch the barrage. Dallas hit seven of 11 three-pointers in the fourth quarter after shooting only 4-for-26 in the previous three. It started when Jalen Brunson, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the fourth, hit a step-back to tie the score 91-91 with 7 minutes, 36 seconds to play. Then the Mavericks hit a three on five of their next six possessions while Doncic hit three free throws for good measure on the seventh. Following another three from Kristaps Porzingis that made the score 112-102 with 2:52 left, the Wolves were left dizzy.
“We gave them a look and we gave them too much space, especially in the fourth,” said center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. “The fourth is different than any other quarter, myself included, we gave them too much space. Solid is not enough when it’s just getting them to take a tough shot, we have to make them not even shoot it.”
But those looks weren’t even all that tough, and for that, a lot of blame goes to the Wolves defense.
“That was the difference in the game,” Saunders said. “Credit to them, credit to their bench, they’re the ones who really stepped up for their team. Our pick-and-roll coverage wasn’t great in the fourth quarter, in terms of late switches. They’ve got a number of guys, including their five men, who are three-point shooters. Allowing those guys to get clean looks, it just didn’t help us.”
Dwight Powell clobbered the Wolves for 24 points on 9-for-9 shooting while Brunson was 7-for-8. Compare that to Andrew Wiggins, who scored 26 points but was only 7-for- 24 from the field (though Wiggins did hit nine of 11 free throws).
The Wolves had led by as much as 11 points in the third, but Dallas chipped away from there until exploding in the fourth. The Wolves have lost two in a row for the fourth time this season and are at .500 (10-10). They haven’t let any of those two-game losing streaks spill over into a third. Emotionally, the Wolves didn’t seem too torn up and might bounce back Friday in Oklahoma City. But it was still a gettable game they didn’t get.
“You’re frustrated, of course,” said Robert Covington (22 points). “You have the game and they came in and made some big plays. Overall we did everything we’re supposed to do to win, but it was just a couple key breakdowns that hurt us.”