For a while, in front of a sold-out Target Center crowd, after a well-received halftime presentation of the team’s new logo, it looked as if the Timberwolves were going to create a lasting memory in a season that hasn’t had enough of them.
For a while.
Down 22 points after a lethargic start, up one with 44 seconds left in the game when Gorgui Dieng hit a 21-foot shot from the corner, the Wolves ended this game like they have most games this season: with a loss.
On a night when the Thunder sat three starters — including MVP candidate Russell Westbrook — Victor Oladipo’s 21-foot jumper with 6.3 seconds left gave Oklahoma City a 100-98 victory in the Timberwolves’ final home game of the season.
“We’re up, 44 seconds to go,’’ Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You don’t want to beat yourself. You don’t trick people, you have to be sound. You don’t need crazy shots, gambles. Just be solid, disciplined. Do that, you have a chance to win.’’
Maybe next season.
The loss against the shorthanded Thunder, which also sat Taj Gibson and Andre Roberson, was the fifth consecutive for the Wolves, who are going quietly into the offseason. The Wolves — at 31-50 only two wins ahead of last year — finish the season at Houston on Wednesday.
“It’s a game we wanted to win,’’ said Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 18 points but started the game missing 10 of his first 11 shots. “It’s the last home game. It stinks we didn’t get a win for them.’’
It was a familiar feeling for the Wolves lately.
Despite the packed crowd, the team came out lethargically, matching their season low with 16 first-quarter points, ultimately falling behind by 22 points early in the second quarter.
It was a hole the team nearly escaped; if the Wolves had, the comeback would have been their biggest of the season.
“We wanted to come out with some wins,’’ said Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 26 points, became the Wolves’ single-season scoring leader and needs 14 rebounds in Houston to reach 1,000 for the season. “We want to go into next season with some momentum. But the only way we can do that is to go into the game tomorrow with some energy.’’
For 12-plus minutes Tuesday, there was energy. Outscoring the Thunder 29-15 in the third quarter, the Wolves rallied from a 13-point deficit to a one-point lead entering the fourth.
But the team didn’t do enough to finish. The Thunder — which had six players score in double figures, led by Oladipo (20) and Domantas Sabionis (19) — outrebounded the Wolves 54-35, including 17-5 in the fourth quarter.
After Dieng’s jumper, Norris Cole hit one of two free throws with 43.4 seconds left to tie the score. Out of a timeout, Towns’ twisting layup in traffic was no good, with Sabonis getting the rebound. At the other end, Oladipo hit the jumper, holding his shooting pose as the ball went through the net. Wiggins’ last-second three-point attempt was no good.
Now, one game left.
• With a shot off the glass with 7:46 left in the first quarter, Towns passed Kevin Love to become the biggest single-season scorer in Wolves history. Towns started the game needing four points to pass Love, who scored 2,010 points in the 2013-14 season. Towns now has 2,033.
If Towns, 21, grabs 14 rebounds Wednesday, he would become the youngest player in NBA history to have 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a season and the first since Tim Duncan in 2001-02.
• With Westbrook sitting Tuesday, the list of NBA iron men shrunk. Towns, Dieng and Wiggins have played in every game this season, and only two other players can say that: Indiana’s Jeff Teague and Washington’s Marcin Gortat.
The Wolves have had at least one player play in every game the past three seasons. Wiggins did it in his rookie season and Towns did it last year.
• Tuesday’s game was the Wolves’ first sellout in a regular-season finale since 1998.