Wolves Looking To Turn Late-Game Fortunes Around

Wolves Looking To Turn Late-Game Fortunes Around

Wolves guard Kevin Martin drives to the hoop and attempts the game-winning shot against Phoenix on Wednesday night. The shot didn't fall, and the Suns escaped Target Center with a come-from-behind 104-103 win. (Photo Credit: David Sherman and Jordan Johnson/NBAE/Getty Images)

It was an all-too familiar scene at Target Center on Wednesday night—something the Wolves players, coaches and fans alike have experienced too often in the 2013-14 season.

Up seven points with 2:44 to play against a Suns team the Wolves currently trail in the Western Conference standings, the tension continued to mount with each passing possession and each Phoenix basket. Before long, the Suns cut the lead to one possession on a Goran Dragic layup with 45.9 to play. Then a steal by Markieff Morris leads to free throws—Morris made 1-of-2.

And then the game-winner: Gerald Green scooped up a loose ball that Dragic nearly turned over and hit a fall-away 18-footer. Minnesota had one last chance with 3.9 seconds on the clock, but Kevin Martin’s drive to the basket came up empty. Minnesota lost 104-103.

The Wolves are 0-10 this season in games decided by four points or fewer, and those precious moments at the end of games are becoming more and more difficult to weather. It appeared on Opening Night that this Minnesota team might be destined for a different path—on that night, Kevin Love’s late 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter sent the game into overtime. Minnesota won by five.

But since that night, the Wolves have struggled to finish these games on the winning end. It’s been a combination of luck, circumstance and, at times, execution. That first meeting against the Clippers in Los Angeles came down to missed tip-ins at the buzzer that normally fall. Their latest game against the Clippers changed course due to a turnover with the team up two and less than 20 seconds to play.

In Washington, it was a late 3-pointer. At home against the Thunder last weekend, it was Kevin Durant’s ice-filled veins, 23 fourth-quarter points and game-winning jumper. Whatever the cause or the circumstance, Minnesota hasn’t been able to hold on to late-game leads or finish off late comebacks.

“We make some mistakes in the end—we didn’t control the tempo of the game in the end,” Rubio said after the Phoenix loss. “We lost that game. It’s frustrating that it happens over and over again, especially when the team’s like Phoenix. They’re right there, and we’re gonna close that gap but instead of doing that we throw the game away and make it bigger.”

That might be the toughest part of Wednesday’s loss. Minnesota has lost its last eight games when trying to move above the .500 mark.

Still, the Wolves are in position to make a move in the Western Conference playoffs. They’re playing current playoff teams tough—they’ve lost their last three home games to Dallas, OKC and Phoenix (all playoff teams) by a combined seven points. And even with Wednesday’s loss, Minnesota is 2 ½ games behind the Mavs for that last playoff spot.

“We can’t have any more of these,” Love said. “That’s a [Phoenix] team, Dallas loses tonight, we beat them, and we’re looking like we’re in good position. If we win a few more here, string a few together in a row. We’ve had a few tough ones. The last three have been very tough—the last four, really. And it’s just time.”

So how do the Wolves make that adjustment?

Coach Rick Adelman continues to underline the fact that Minnesota needs to defend down the stretch, execute in crunch time and take care of the basketball.

“Guys have to make plays,” Adelman said. “I don’t know what else to say. We haven’t done that. There have been games, especially in games like this, where it’s one possession either way. But you’ve got to get stops, too. We didn’t get stops. We needed them.”

On Wednesday, the Suns did cut the lead to one before hitting the game-winner, but that final Phoenix possession didn’t run smoothly. Dragic mishandled the ball, and it happened to find its way into Green’s hands. He hit a tough shot to put the Wolves down one.

“We didn’t play bad D,” Love said. “They didn’t draw that up—it was a broken play. They got it, [Corey Brewer]’s 6-foot-9, Green’s jumping over him with that fadeaway, falling away, drills it. That’s just unlucky.”

The Wolves are at a point, now 17-18 on the season, where a lot of basketball is left to be played and a lot of ground can be gained or lost over the next three months. But this is the point in time, after a tough loss to Phoenix, where beginning to pull out games late in the fourth is essential.

“We just need to turn around the next game and try to prepare as best we can,” center Nikola Pekovic said. “…We need to try to win the next game. That’s all we can do.”

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