Martell Webster had it in for his old team Tuesday night in the nation’s capital.
The former Timberwolves reserve shooting guard, now a small forward for Washington, drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer from the left wing with 42.9 seconds left to ice what ranks as the most disappointing setback in Minnesota’s young season. Facing a team that came in with a 2-7 mark and a propensity to fade late, the Timberwolves had hoped to commence a taxing span of five games in seven nights on somewhat stable footing.
Instead, they blew a 16-point lead, fell 104-100 and face a whole lot of questions heading into matchups Wednesday against the powerful Clippers and Friday against the high-powered, new-look Nets.
“A good team wins a game like this,” Timberwolves forward Kevin Love said. “You got the sense that it was a do-or-die game for them, and that’s how it needs to be for us every night.”
He can thank Webster — a teammate of Love’s from 2010-2012 — for the reminder.
Making his first start this season, Webster went 5-for-10 from 3-point range, scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Teammate Bradley Beal tied Kevin Love with a game-high 25 points, Nene scored 20, and John Wall tied a career high with 16 assists.
The last one came on a short pass from the left elbow to Webster after Minnesota bottled up the Wizards’ offense and had the shot clock down below the 4-second mark. Webster’s game-winning 3 flipped the net up over the left side of the rim, and the Timberwolves (7-5) never found an answer at the other end.
It was an agonizing culmination to a nightmarish second half. After building a 53-37, second-quarter lead on back-to-back 3s by J.J. Barea and Robbie Hummel and leading by 12 at the break, Minnesota was outscored by the same 53-37 margin during the final two quarters.
“We just didn’t play very well in the second half at all,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “We gave them life.”
A contest that featured two of the NBA’s top five transition offenses saw Washington (3-7) outscore the Timberwolves 33-9, frequently taking advantage of turnovers and racing the other way for easy buckets. Minnesota gave it away 17 times.
As he has a handful of times this season, point guard Ricky Rubio watched the final moments from the bench. He committed three turnovers while scoring 10 points and dishing out an uncharacteristically low two assists.
The third-year Spaniard also failed to record a steal for the first time in 33 games, ending the NBA’s longest active streak.
Backcourt mate Kevin Martin was even less effective. The league’s No. 6 scorer coming in went 4-of-17 from the floor — 1-of-5 from long distance — and scored 11 points.
“We need everybody every night,” Adelman said. “We can’t usually get by if we have a couple guys with off games.”
Adelman attributed his team’s lowest-scoring half of the season to simple impatience.
“When things are going good, they flow pretty good,” Adelman said, “but when you start struggling a little bit — missing shots or whatever — then they have a tendency to get into panic mode and try to do too much.”
Things started off just fine.
Love missed just once and hit 3-of-4 3-pointers to score 16 points in the first quarter, and the Timberwolves took a 34-27 lead into the second. A tier-two rotation featuring Barea, Hummel, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham and Nikola Pekovic (13 points, six boards) pushed the advantage to 16 before a 12-4 Wizards run whittled it to 63-51 at halftime.
Then Washington, benefiting from a 3 and a 3-point play by Beal, took its first lead since the first quarter via a 20-11 third-quarter run. The lead exchange hands five times during the final 3 minutes of the frame, and the two teams entered the fourth squared up at 81.
Neither led by more than five during a back-and-forth final quarter. Martin’s only successful 3, with 1:11 remaining, gave Minnesota its last lead. Webster hit his huge trey on the Wizards’ next possession.
The ball exchanged hands six times as Timberwolves defenders thwarted looks in the paint by Wall, Marcin Gortat, Nene and Wall again, forcing a pass on each occasion before Webster made it 100-98. Martin missed a contested, fall-away jumper on Minnesota’s next trip down the floor.
His team waited 11 ½ seconds before fouling Beal, who hit both of his free throws. Corey Brewer closed the gap back to two on his putback of a Love miss, and the Timberwolves were able to force a half-court inbounds pass to Nene and foul him with 6.5 seconds to go.
But the 61.8-percent career free-throw shooter converted both his free shots, capping off Washington’s perfect 15-for-15 night at the stripe.
The Timberwolves missed eight of their 24 free throws.
“We just didn’t convert,” said Love, who chipped in 11 rebounds. “We thought that, as bad as we were playing, we gave ourselves a chance, but Martell hit that big 3 at the end, and we just couldn’t fight our way back from four points (down) with so little time.”
Afterward, Webster stuck around to shake hands with Adelman and several other Timberwolves coaches, officials and players. He still looks back fondly on his two seasons in the Twin Cities, where he averaged 12.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
“Amazing opportunity,” Webster said of his time in Minneapolis. “What can I say? It’s a blessing to be in this league, so you want to have memories your whole career.”
Chalk up Tuesday as a good one. For Webster, anyway.