CHICAGO – In their third game of the season, the Timberwolves blew a 21-point lead in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. For the next few months, the Wolves were resolved to not let a night like that happen again, and that spurred them to a start that put them atop the Western Conference standings.
But the calendar turning to 2024 has seen this team backslide into what it was a season ago, as the Wolves again blew a large lead, this time a 23-point one, in a 129-123 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls.
Add this one to the list of recent calamities: a 17-point lead Friday against Orlando, a 15-point lead against San Antonio and an 18-point lead against Charlotte. All ended in losses.
“That’s the theme of our team, theme of the year,” said Wolves guard Anthony Edwards, who had 38 points. “We can’t keep leads. We’ll figure it out though. It’s still early.”
But it’s more than halfway through the season, and the Wolves are now in a four-way tie for first in the Western Conference with Oklahoma City, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers. Tuesday’s game had all the trappings of that early loss to Atlanta. The Wolves dominated on offense in the first half. Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns (33 points) combined for 41. The Wolves shot 56% and led by 22. Then they short-circuited in the second half.
“We got to find a way to forget about the score and just be dogs for 48 minutes,” said Rudy Gobert, who had 12 points and 16 rebounds. “Also, once again, too much talking to the officials. They’re not going to get better. I think we got to focus on ourselves.”
The Bulls’ Coby White got hot in the second half for 30 of his 33 points. Then in overtime, DeMar DeRozan, who missed the potential game-winner at the buzzer in regulation, scored eight of Chicago’s first 10 points and the Wolves were playing from behind the entire period. Their offense shrank in the fourth quarter and overtime. They were 7-for-18 in the fourth and had four turnovers in overtime. But for as bad as the offense was, the Wolves were more disappointed in their defensive effort in allowing Chicago to score 82 points in the second half and overtime.
“It has to be focus and intensity as much as execution,” coach Chris Finch said of the blown leads. “You play well, you get up, and then it’s a question for the guys — our seriousness has to maintain a high level. Just because we’re up doesn’t mean the other team is going to go away. The turnovers and the [allowed] threes, the turnovers and the transition, the turnovers and the offensive rebounds, just too many bites at the cherry for them.”
The Bulls took their first lead since 4-3 when White hit a layup with 2 minutes, 28 seconds to play. The Wolves got a couple of buckets from Towns inside of two minutes, including a three to tie the score at 115 with 50.5 seconds to go. That three could have been for the lead if not for a technical foul Kyle Anderson picked up from the bench. Both Finch and Anderson thought the official who issued the technical, C.J. Washington, had a “quick trigger.”
“I think he pulled the trigger a little too early, honestly,” Anderson said. “All we were saying on the bench was it’s a foul, and-1. Nobody used profanity, nothing malicious. Just caught up in the moment of the game. That was a quick trigger. I don’t think a veteran ref is calling a tech on that. Nothing to do with the game. But he did.”
Crew chief Tony Brothers, who left the game in the second half because of an injury, told a pool reporter that Anderson had been warned to stop complaining but continued to do so, and that’s why Washington issued the technical.
“It seemed to me like an incredibly quick and unnecessary, at that point in time, call,” Finch said. “Just reacting to a play in the moment that I didn’t think was over-demonstrative. I don’t think there was an excessive discussion or language used or anything like that. Just really, really quick.”
To sum it all up, Tuesday had all the markings of what made the Wolves so frustrating to watch a season ago: a team hampered by immaturity cost itself by complaining to officials and lost a game it should have won. For the first part of this season, the Wolves weren’t like that. But old habits die hard.
When asked whether he thought the Wolves were close to getting past the issues thwarting them in games like this, Edwards said they weren’t.
“Close to getting past it? Nah, we’re not close to getting past it,” Edwards said. ” … They beat us. We’re not close, no.”
First appeared on www.startribune.com