MINNEAPOLIS — The chances were there for the Minnesota Timberwolves to win. But after several missed opportunities, Sunday’s game finished just like too many others have this year.
After building a 16-point first-half lead, Minnesota saw that margin dwindle in the second half. Unable to make plays down the stretch, the Wolves fell by one to the visiting Golden State Warriors, 100-99.
Given the hushed atmosphere of Minnesota’s locker room after the game — and the brevity of coach Rick Adelman’s postgame press conference — this loss will sting the Wolves for a bit.
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“We have to know how to close games,” said point guard Ricky Rubio. “We start pretty good in the game and we’re in a rhythm, but we let them get in the game. . . . It was an important game. It seems like they wanted to win the game more than us.”
It was a continuation of a trend this season for Minnesota. Far too often, the Timberwolves have seen a sizable lead disappear by the end of the game. It happened again Sunday, as the Wolves were outscored 24-18 in the final quarter.
Making Sunday’s loss extra frustrating was the fact that several of Minnesota’s players put together impressive individual performances. Rubio fell just shy of a triple-double, scoring 16 points along with 11 assists and eight rebounds. Forward Derrick Williams had one of his better games, notching 23 points and adding 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season — and his third in the last eight games. Nikola Pekovic added 21 points and chipped in eight rebounds as he had his way in the paint against the smaller Warriors lineup.
As good as those individual efforts were, the Timberwolves collectively failed to make key plays in the game’s biggest moments. Minnesota turned the ball over several times in the final minutes, allowing Golden State to retake the lead with 1:15 remaining.
“You have to take care of the ball and be sure you get a shot and we didn’t do that,” said Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman. “We had the lead at that point and sometimes we are forcing the issues. . . . They are things we have to learn from.”
Even in the final minute, the Wolves again had a chance to reclaim the lead and possibly steal a win but couldn’t box out the Warriors when it mattered most. Golden State rookie Harrison Barnes picked up the offensive rebound on a miss by Jarrett Jack and was fouled. Barnes then missed the second free throw attempt but the Warriors again cleaned up the offensive glass, this time on a rebound by Draymond Green with just over 30 seconds to play.
It’s cases like that — the inability to do the little things, especially down the stretch — that have led to these close losses for Minnesota.
“Those offensive rebounds on the free throw, we can’t allow them to do that, especially in that kind of crunch moment,” said forward Andrei Kirilenko, who had 14 points and five rebounds in Sunday’s loss. “But give them credit. They fought hard for those rebounds and they deserved to get them.”
Sunday marked Minnesota’s fourth loss by six points or fewer this month. The same theme can be found in some of those losses — and even in some of Minnesota’s wins — as the Wolves have often built up big leads early, only to let them slip away.
When the Timberwolves were up big Sunday, they couldn’t keep the foot on the pedal in the first half. Golden State cut it to a one-point game late in the second quarter, thanks largely in part to Carl Landry. The Warriors forward had 12 points in the second quarter alone as part of his 19-point night to help Golden State come from behind.
“I have a great group of guys who are very resilient,” said Warriors head coach Mark Jackson. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to, but the bottom line is they scratched, they clawed, they battled and found a way to win a ballgame.”
These close losses have shown that Minnesota can indeed match up against some of the better teams in the league. Being able to close out those games, however, remains the difference.
“To let the lead slip away and you lose the game by one point, it’s tough on all of us,” said Williams. “I like the way we started. We’ve just got to finish the game.”