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Figuring that things always look a little better in the morning, I took a few hours to think about last night’s game, and then I took a few more, and now here we are, a day later, looking back at arguably the worst loss of the season so far for the Timberwolves.
Don’t get me wrong, the Wolves have dropped games against opponents considerably inferior to the Clippers. The Celtics are bad, the Cavaliers might be worse. The Lakers game was uninspiring.
But there’s something especially disheartening about losing games that should have been won, and the Wolves should have beaten the Clippers. Jamal Crawford hit a layup with 13 seconds remaining, and then slammed home a pass from Chris Paul after the Clippers point guard stripped Kevin Martin in the backcourt to send the game into overtime. Minnesota took a couple of leads in the final period, but a 3-pointer by Jared Dudley was enough to help Los Angeles pull away in the end. The loss wasted monster efforts by Minnesota’s bigs, as Kevin Love put up 45 points and 19 rebounds while Nikola Pekovic added 34 points and 14 boards.
The loss has also sent the Wolves’ fan base into cardiac arrest. Fans seem to think that Martin’s blunder was some kind of tipping point, and perhaps they are right. But Martin’s turnover was explicable — Minnesota, attempting to get their best free throw shooter the ball, failed to account for Chris Paul’s ability to strip opponents on defense and put the play in the hands of a shaky ball-handler at best. Worse, they abandoned him behind the half court line, essentially sticking him on an island with a pair of tigers and telling him “Good luck.” It’s not that giving Martin the ball was a bad play for which Adelman should be blamed. Martin is a 93 percent free throw shooter so far this season, and sending him to the line is about as close to icing the game as a team can get. It’s not Martin’s fault either. If anything, the rest of the Wolves should have given him some help in the backcourt, but when you are picking those kind of nits, you can see that turnovers like Martin’s…just kind of happen.
After that, where should blame be assigned? To Rubio, who shot poorly once again and didn’t score? Probably not, since he finished with 12 assists and the Wolves were wisely running their offense through their bigs all evening (also relevant: Rubio’s defense on Chris Paul was excellent all evening). To Love or Peko-…hahaha no. To the bench, who — Barea excepted — finished with six total points? Sure, but the bench isn’t going to be a problem that gets fixed any time soon, if at all this season. To the overtime period, and a weary Wolves team coming off a difficult November/December stretch? Perhaps. It has been a wearying start to the season. But that kind of thinking requires context, and it’s hard to take context into account in the moment. Recency bias rules most basketball conversations, and recently, the Wolves have looked like a late lottery team, which obviously is not where they want to be.
This was always going to be a tough stretch, and there were always going to be disappointing games. January still looms as an opportunity to get above .500. But you’d be excused for being disappointed with the loss, even a day later. It’s not panic time yet, but last night doesn’t look a whole lot prettier the next day.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.