After a furious fourth-quarter rally, the Timberwolves came up two rolls off the rim short of a possible Staples Center sweep Tuesday night.
Kevin Martin’s awkward last-second jumper was well off the mark, and Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love both missed point-blank put-back attempts. The second fell to the floor as the buzzer sounded on a 109-107 Clippers win.
But on the second day of a back-to-back with Minnesota’s bench remaining quiet, to almost erase an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to a championship contender was a victory unto itself.
“We kept fighting,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We had three shots at it. … When you get down, though, everything’s got to go right for you.”
A Chris Paul jump shot with 5 minutes, 13 seconds left put Los Angeles on top 100-89 and equaled its largest lead of the night. But the Timberwolves stormed back with an 18-9 swing capped by Pekovic’s layup that made it 109-107 with 1:26 to go.
Martin’s 3 and dunk off a Pekovic steal and Rubio outlet pass the following possession spurred the run and brought Minnesota within 101-99 with 3:26 left. Adelman decided to put the ball in Martin’s hands with 6.9 seconds remaining and his team down 109-107.
The veteran shooting guard drove to his left, hesitated, then forced up a leaner contested by DeAndre Jordan. It missed badly, but Pekovic was there for the rebound. His bunny of a second chance rolled off the left side of the rim to Love, whose tip try did the same exact thing.
Love could only laugh after his miss. “My bad,” he called out to his teammates.
The three men that missed on the final play had monster nights that allowed the Timberwolves (5-3) to keep pace with a Clippers club projected as a Western Conference favorite. Martin scored 30 points and hit 4 of 8 3-pointers, Love notched 23 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists, and Pekovic had his best game this year with 25 points on 11 of 15 shooting and 10 boards.
“It felt like a playoff atmosphere,” Los Angeles guard Jamal Crawford said. “They’re playing as good of basketball as anybody in the league right now.”
In a game that saw 13 lead changes and 11 ties, Minnesota had opportunities. Its 16-6 offensive rebounds advantage allowed it to attempt 96 field goals — 16 more than the Clippers — but so many, including the last three, didn’t go down.
The Timberwolves shot 41.7 percent from the floor.
The lowest-scoring bench in the NBA didn’t help matters any. Led by Jamal Crawford’s 18 points, Los Angeles’ reserves outscored Minnesota’s 40-17.
Crawford banked home a buzzer-beating, half-court 3, sending his squad into the final frame up 85-80. The Clippers opened the fourth on a 10-4 run and went back up by 11 after neither team held an edge of more than six during the third.
Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Paul scored 21 and dished out 11 assists.
Monday’s dogfight before 19,060 in-person viewers hardly resembled the Timberwolves’ blowout victory over the Lakers in the same building about 24 hours prior. The highest-scoring quarter in Minnesota’s history paced it to an easy win that night.
Los Angeles’ other team made things considerably tougher Tuesday.
“It was a back-to-back game; we knew it,” Adelman said. “We were able to make some plays to get back in it. Had a great chance to tie it. Just didn’t go in.”
Coming off considerably less rest than its opponent — which hadn’t played since Saturday — Minnesota remained in the Clippers’ hip pocket throughout the first half. Los Angeles led 59-58 at the break after the Timberwolves closed the second quarter on a 16-6 run.
Martin’s 3 off a Rubio assist with 32.1 seconds left in the second trimmed to one a deficit that stood at 11 2 ½ minutes earlier. Paul’s alley-oop to Jordan had capped a 19-5 Clippers jaunt that gave them a 53-42 advantage.
Love and Pekovic scored seven points apiece in the first quarter as Minnesota led by as many as seven, but Griffin countered with 11 of his. Ryan Hollins finished a lob from Crawford with a thunderous dunk that made it 26-23 Timberwolves heading into the second.
Minnesota will have the day off Tuesday and then returns home to host Cleveland on Wednesday night.