One by one the Timberwolves starters said the load, the minutes, the time they spent on the court Tuesday night at Target Center wasn’t the reason.
Take center Karl-Anthony Towns, for example. He played nearly 40 minutes, he played all 12 minutes of the decisive fourth quarter. But he wasn’t about to admit that fatigue had anything to do with his team’s late-game fade.
“No, no, no,” he said. “We just got beat the normal, regular way.”
The Wolves lost to Washington 92-89. Minnesota entered the game, for the third straight time, without starting point guard Jeff Teague and reserve Nemanja Bjelica. Shorthanded to start, coach Tom Thibodeau watched his bench give away a double-digit lead in the first half and decided it couldn’t happen again. So he played his starters. A lot. All four played more than 37 minutes. Four played more than 39½. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter turned into a three-point loss.
“Well, we’re short-handed,” Thibodeau said. “Their bench hurt us. That was a concern.”
The Wizards (11-9) got 49 of their 92 points from the bench. Three players — led by Kelly Oubre’s 16 points, scored in double figures off the bench. All five Washington starters were minus players Tuesday. All five Wizards reserves were a plus-12 or better.
Towns had 20 points and 17 rebounds but struggled to get calls all night. Taj Gibson (16 points and 11 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (17 points and 10 assists) also had double-doubles.
The Wolves led by 12 in the first quarter, eight at halftime, 13 early in the third and by eight when Jamal Crawford drained a three-pointer with 9:44 left in the game.
But Otto Porter Jr.’s 22-foot jumper with 25.9 seconds left broke an 89-all tie and put the Wizards ahead for good.
“It was a grimy game, and they got to the loose balls at the end,” Thibodeau said.
Said Andrew Wiggins: “They made good plays. We didn’t finish on the other side, so.”
Is it as simple as that?
In the fourth quarter the Wolves starters were a combined 5-for-18, failed to attempt a free throw and were outscored 15-5 over the final 6 minutes. The Wolves shot 33.3 percent in the fourth quarter, the Wizards 10-for-19 (52.6 percent). Not trusting his bench, Thibodeau went with the starters trying to get a win in the home half of back-to-back games. Now the Wolves, who just finished their four-game homestand 2-2, will play in New Orleans on Wednesday against a Pelicans team that has had three days off.
“I can’t speak for everybody,” Wiggins said. “I felt good. We just have to execute, make the extra pass, play together.”
The score was tied at 89 when, out of a timeout, the ball got to Towns, who appeared to have a good look at a three. He hesitated, let a defender pass, dribbled, then stepped back and took a contested three that missed. Bradley Beal got the rebound, then fed Porter for the decisive jumper. Out of another timeout, Wiggins missed a three. Butler got the rebound and fed Wiggins again, who missed another three with 12.9 seconds left.
That was the Wolves last, best chance. Fouled, Beal hit one of two free throws with 2.5 seconds left.
“We have to be able to just push through,” said Tyus Jones, who had 12 points and seven assists in his second straight start. “The game is taxing. It’s not an excuse. We have to make plays down the stretch. That’s what it comes down to.”