You know the score is lopsided when Cole Aldrich, Aaron Brooks and Marcus Georges-Hunt get minutes.
You know it got completely out of hand when those minutes come at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
And you know that the world has been turned upside down when that bench unit nearly brings the Wolves all the way back, forcing the Sixers to return their starters to the floor.
It was a fun fourth quarter for the Timberwolves’ pine residents, they made it interesting and deserve a ton of credit. They made it fun when it looked like any chance of a fun finish had left with 80 percent of Wells Fargo Arena’s fans.
But don’t get it twisted: this game was a blowout when the players that will play in the playoffs — assuming they get there — were in.
The Timberwolves lost to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night, and it wasn’t close for the meat of the game. The Wolves trailed by as many as 29, and the individual pieces of the Jimmy Butler-less starting lineup never looked as in-need of their star than on this particular occasion.
The Sixers have been unbelievable over the past two months; their top-five defense was on display and Karl-Anthony Towns ineffectively tried to combat Joel Embiid, and it took him out of his element.
Jeff Teague — who has had a great stretch of late — got back into the habit of holding onto the ball and over-dribbling. And while Andrew Wiggins did a good job stuffing the stat sheet, he was ineffective shooting the ball, and settled for a number of low-percentage mid-range jumpers.
This one on his old teammate was especially bad, and likely taken for the same reason as the bad shots Towns attempted — an attempt to show up a fellow rising star and peer.
The main rotation didn’t look like a team that knew how to play with a team like Philadelphia, and that’s discouraging. They’re nearly equal in record, and have enough tools offensively — even without Butler — to beat them.
And while the Wolves were a bad defensive team with Butler, some of the letdowns in this game would have at least resulted in some choice words from the injured star after the game.
But in their second straight matchup this season, Joel Embiid looked like the most dominant player on the floor, Ben Simmons kept up his court wizardry, and the overall defense lived up to its top-five rating across the league.
But maybe all of that is okay.
Wins are necessary at this point, and a loss at this point in the season hurts, but maybe a swift kick to the rear right before taking on a series of tanking teams could (should?) be a humbling wake-up call down the stretch.
So far, the Timberwolves haven’t disappointed without Butler, meaning they have yet to lose a game they were projected to win. Their losses so far in that stretch — Portland, Boston, Utah, San Antonio, Houston and now Philadelphia — are all games the Timberwolves were projected to lose to going in.
All the while, they were able to pick up wins over Golden State, Washington and Los Angeles. In each of those games, they were either projected to lose or, at the very least, have to fight to win.
They’ve been solid to this point, but they’re still a team led in scoring (most nights) by two guys under 24 years old.
And considering their recent history of bad losses to bad teams — Atlanta, Orlando, Phoenix (twice) and Memphis — the odds of a falter down the stretch is not out of the realm of possibility.
It should be said that the Wolves might have figured out how to deal this problem. Recent play suggests so, anyway. Their last three teams against said cellar-dweller teams — Chicago, Sacramento and New York on Friday — all resulted in wins, two of them blowouts.
But any team that’s had recent success is liable for a fall. A team with young stars like the Timberwolves, that lack the stability of a player like Butler, might be more liable than any other team currently competing for Western Conference playoff positioning.
A loss to Philadelphia would have gone according to the status quo. The Sixers came into Saturday’s game a projected eight-point favorite, but quickly doubled and eventually tripled that number.
The Timberwolves haven’t been blown out much this season, and thus don’t have a ton of sample size for what to expect going forward. The last time they were down big was Feb. 13 against Houston, the night Butler went down.
Just like Saturday’s loss to Philadelphia, the Wolves followed their loss to Houston with a pair of games against tanking teams. They won both of those games by 20-plus points.
And when the Wolves lost by 18 to Houston the month prior, they followed it up with gutty wins over Toronto (without Butler), followed by an impressive victory over the Clippers.
A painful loss to a team trying to lose remains possible, but the Timberwolves are aware of what they’re playing for, and a brutal beatdown like the one they experienced on Saturday might be the wakeup call they needed.
As good as the bench was, and as fun as their comeback could have been, the loss itself can serve as a powerful learning tool down the stretch.
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