The Timberwolves played competent, system basketball for about three and a half quarters of Monday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings. But their 20-plus-point lead and new franchise record of 23 3-pointers made in one game were vanquished in the final two minutes of play when the Wolves gave up a 15-point lead and allowed the Kings to settle things in overtime. The Kings jumped on that opportunity and claimed a 133-129 win despite being down by as much as 27 points.
Words can’t diminish the disappointment of Monday’s loss. The Wolves have to be about action now.
Karl-Anthony Towns knew this on Tuesday when he kept his answers brief in his two minutes, 57 seconds of pre-practice media availability.
“It’s just frustrating all around,” Towns said when asked if how well the Wolves played in the first three quarters of Monday’s game added to his frustration. “No one wants to be a part of history, but we put ourselves in the history books for the wrong reasons.
“I hope we all learn from it.”
Based on Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders’ pre-practice comments, the Wolves have already begun to learn from Monday’s loss.
First and foremost, the Wolves’ late-game execution has been insufficient during their current losing streak. The Wolves have proven they can play with above .500 teams like the Rockets, Raptors, Thunder and Pacers, but when it comes to finishing games in crunch time, they’ve repeatedly fallen short.
“Late-game situations isn’t just a side out-of-bounds play,” Saunders, who didn't sleep after Monday's loss, said. “Late-game situations are a free-throw box out. A free-throw where we think the ball will be. It’s not fouling 3-point shooters. You’d like to think that youth plays a factor in that, but we need to be better with that. And we will.”
Saunders acknowledged how the Wolves played well for the majority of Monday’s game but said that wouldn’t be the emphasis of Tuesday’s film session.
“I’ll talk about how we played 45 minutes of good basketball, but I’m focusing on those last three minutes and overtime as opposed to showing clips from early on,” Saunders said.
Yet, the Wolves have to hold onto what went right in the first 40 minutes of Monday’s game. The Wolves made 23 of their 46 3-point attempts, recorded 29 assists and improved on the boards where they outrebounded the Kings 61-49, proving that their system does work when executed properly.
“I do take positives from that,” Saunders said. “Trust me, I understand — especially as a Minnesota fan — a game like last night’s hurts. It does. It hurts all of us. But we mean it when we say we’re going to focus on today, and we’ll use last night as a stepping-stone to get better because when you look at three quarters and almost three and a half quarters, we played a good, system basketball game that I was very happy with. Then things did not go our way late in the game.”
When the game began to unravel, the Wolves seemed to enter survival mode by forcing shots as defeat lurked. They can’t continue to play not to lose.
“I think that a lot of times when you do go on losing streaks, you have to pull yourself out of the mindset of, ‘Oh, here we go,’” Saunders said. “It’s got to be moving on to the next play, the next one. That’s what I plan on doing today. That’s not just a lip-service thing, because I believe in what we’re doing and I believe in the down-the-line vision of this. But we need to make sure that we correct last night.”
Monday’s loss won’t be forgotten anytime soon. But all the Wolves can do now is move on and continue to focus on their long-term goals while still committing to improving every day so that their goals of the distant future can eventually come to fruition.
“We’re a group that’s focused on the long-term goal,” Saunders said. “We’re focused on that, and that means that you have to pick yourself up. It’s like anything in life; things happen, and it’s tough. A lot of things are in your control, some are out of your control. But it’s how you respond the next day, and we’re going to respond today by getting after it in terms of seeing what we did wrong, seeing how we could be better and knowing that we’ll be better in the future.”