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Being 0-11 in close games requires some bad breaks, and Minnesota has been breaking worse than Walter White all season. The Wolves have had to watch unlikely shots fall, bad calls go against them and a variety of other unforeseen circumstances while compiling a close-game record that has threatened to derail their playoff hopes.
The luck may have changed last night, at least for one game. The Wolves got two big breaks in last night’s 121-120 win in Golden State that prevented them from falling to 0-12 in games decided by four points or less.
The first was a defensive mistake by Klay Thompson. With just under 15 seconds remaining in the fourth, Kevin Martin and Kevin Love played a two-man game — Martin passed to Kevin Love in the high post and ran past him, using Love as an off-ball screener. Rather than continuing to trail the locked-in Martin, Thompson stuck to Love. Whether he meant to double-team Love or expected David Lee to switch onto Martin, it was a mistake. Martin moved far enough away from Love to get a good look, which he knocked down to give the Wolves the lead.
Minnesota wasn’t quite finished getting lucky yet. The Warriors sent out a small-ball lineup to get the last shot, and Harrison Barnes ran a nice PnR with Steph Curry. Kevin Love helped try to trap Curry, who had time to get Barnes an open look at a jumper. But Barnes’ shot rimmed out, and the Wolves broke a very long, very over-emphasized streak.
Those two plays encapsulate everything we’ve learned about the Wolves in close games so far this year. Kevins Love and Martin are both quite good at scoring, as is Nikola Pekovic. On many nights, those three can carry the team’s offense. Ricky Rubio can pass the ever-living hell out of the ball, and he’s a solid defender, even if Curry lit him up (because, frankly, Curry lights everyone up).
Did last night feel like a turning point? Sure, absolutely. A close win will always feel like a turning point because of the emotional energy, and it will certainly feel like a turning point because we’ve seen a string of such losses. And in this case, it might actually be the start of things turning around, but it likely won’t be because the Wolves had an attitude adjustment or learned how to win close games, at least not entirely. It also will likely be because at some point, in close games decided in part by uncontrollable circumstances, a regression (or a progression) to the mean has to be expected.
Minnesota has lost some close games because of bad execution. Those are the kind of problems that can be fixed, and a win (with proper late-game execution) is certainly a good way to start turning things around. But given what we’ve seen so far this season, we will need a larger sample size than one game that featured plenty of luck before we can truly feel confident moving forward.
Still, one game is better than zero, and 1-11 feels quite a bit better than 0-12.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.