In a game where they forced 24 turnovers, had no starters with a negative plus-minus and forced 0-for-5 opponent shooting in the final five minutes, the Minnesota Timberwolves still lost to the Phoenix Suns at Target Center on Saturday night, 108-106.
It was a game where, if all the shooting categories were removed from the box score, it would be smart to assume the Timberwolves won the game by double digits.
But an inability to close out quarters, combined with a trio of shooting fouls on 3-point shots led to one of the more gut-wrenching losses of the season.
Rebounding was also a major problem, as the Wolves lost the battle of the boards 52-31.
“[Rebounding] was probably the biggest thing any time we got up double digits,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We let them back in, giving them a second and third shot.”
Leading by as many as 15 points early on, the Wolves looked to be putting away the Devin Booker-less Suns away early. They forced 19 turnovers in the first half, one off the pace for the NBA record.
While shooting poorly from the field, they made up for it with those turnovers, scoring half of their 42 first-half points off the absurd number of steals.
“We saw what happened,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We gave the game up. Gave it away about three times. We couldn’t pull it out in the end.”
Still, the bad shooting in that half – 36.5 percent from the field, 18.8 percent from 3-point land – allowed the Suns to stay within eight points.
When the second half hit, several of the same problems persisted, except the sound Minnesota defense disappeared. The Wolves only forced five more turnovers the rest of the game, while the Suns scored 65 points and allowed 20 free-throw makes.
It also featured an apparent back injury to Butler, who left the game briefly to get treatment. Even after he came back in, he hobbled when he ran and grimaced when forced to sprint.
The Wolves held the Suns without a field goal in the final few frames, but couldn’t hold it together.
“We always do that,” Taj Gibson said in the locker room. “Seems like we get a good lead, go up 20 or maybe 15, we start feeling good and then just have a letdown.”
After the Suns mounted a comeback to get them back into the game, the Wolves still had a one-point lead with 15 seconds to go. On the next possession, Jeff Teague fouled Isaiah Canaan on a 3-point shot attempt near the end of the shot clock.
Thibodeau didn’t see it that way.
“My interpretation is what they called was a shot clock violation.”
The game’s Crew Chief, Ken Mauer, met with a pool reporter to explain what happened.
“I told Mr. Thibodeau, ‘yes, he did call a foul’,” Mauer said. “The play was handled correctly.”
He laid the play out in more detail.
“The referee signaled the foul first, then signaled the 24-second violation.”
When Teague was asked about the play, he kept it short, to-the-vest and simple.
“He shot faked, and he called a foul,” Teague said.
Canaan went on to hit all three free throws. After a pair of misses by Butler on the other end, the clock sounded, marking one of the toughest losses for the Wolves this season.
“You’ve got to play 48 minutes, it’s a long game,” Thibodeau said. “If you let your guard down and you get wrapped up in the wrong things, you’re going to lose focus.”
The Timberwolves will close out their five-game homestand on Monday against the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that’s had success against poor defensive teams like the Wolves.
They’ll need to win in all categories of the stat sheet, but also play for the entire game.
That didn’t happen Saturday.