• It was going to be a tough game coming in, but a game that looked important to take. With a back-to-back looming tomorrow and the opponent’s best player out, there was a little sense of urgency in this one.

    The Wolves stormed out of the gates with a big first quarter in what was one of the more fun stretches of the season to watch. The ball was moving faster than the Wizard defenders could keep up. The Wolves were running offensive sets to perfection. Shots were falling. The Wolves’ defense was rotating and contesting nearly every shot.

    With Teague and Bjelica out, the 10-man rotation was cut to eight. Coming into this game the Wizards bench, and Kelly Oubre in particular, were going to be a key factor in keeping the game close. Once the benches started to empty in the second quarter, the Wizards made a run. An 11-point lead in the first quickly turned into a four-point deficit in the second.

    Thibs saw enough and hastily went back to the starters, who managed to retake the lead and build it all the way to eight at halftime. After extending the lead to 13 points in the third, Thibs turned to the back bench, and once again the lead evaporated to two points. Thibs yanked the bench and rode his starters the rest of the way.

    That turned out to play a factor late in the game. After maintaining the lead midway through the fourth, the starters were noticeably exhausted. Players were walking up the floor. The ball wasn’t zipping around the court. The Wizards were faster than the Wolves’ offense and beat them to their spots.

    The final half of the fourth quarter, the Wolves were outscored 20-9. Everything that was exciting and encouraging from the first three and a half quarters disappeared. It was an unfortunate end to a positive step for many of these players. The Wolves arguably played better in this loss than they have in a number of their wins.

    That’s how things go in the NBA though. Life isn’t always fair.

    The Timberwolves’ fade down the stretch isn’t anything new though. In the first three quarters, the Wolves have a defensive rating of 105.2 and an offensive rating of 110. In the fourth quarter those get dramatically worse. With a defensive rating of 115.1 and an offensive rating of 99.4, the Wolves are by far the worst fourth quarter team in the NBA.

    They are now a minus-144 in the fourth, meaning they have been outscored by 144 points in the final quarter.

    Tonight this can easily be pointed to the fact that the starters were completely gassed, thanks to playing with a seven-man rotation. Thibodeau chose to ride the starters and it backfired in the end. He did have a chance to rest his guys, but some poor clock management blew the opportunity.

    With just over three minutes left in the fourth and in possession of the ball, the Wolves had two timeouts. In a use them or lose them situation, Thibs decided to lose them and keep his tired bunch on the floor. Then with 2:45 on the clock, after losing his two extra timeouts, he calls a timeout.

    The rest of the way, the Wolves only had one timeout to work with and in the end they weren’t able to advance the ball or set up any play when they had a chance to tie or take the lead, or even simply give his guys a rest. In a quarter full of mistakes that may have been the biggest of them all.

    The fourth quarter woes on a whole can be attributed to the fact that the Wolves have limited depth and Thibs’ notorious nature to ride his starters. Just a quarter into the season and the legs already seemingly dragging a bit, some rotational changes may need to be in store. Heath will also help.

    To highlight some positives in this game, Karl-Anthony Towns scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Somehow he did not make it to the free throw line, despite some physical play down low. Towns was also the most active on defense in a long time, outside of a few times complaining to the refs.

    On the night the refs seemed to let the teams play more often than not. It helped the flow of the game, but it could have been another reason the team was so tired at the end, they were well below their average free throw attempts, which mean less break times.

    Jimmy Butler had 17 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers. He only shot 5-of-17 from the field though. His activity on defense was fun to watch as well. He jumped a number of passing lanes and tipped a number of balls, despite picking up only one official steal.

    Tyus Jones played well in another start with 12 points, seven assists, four rebounds, one steal and two 3-pointers.

    The Wolves basically played with seven players. Off the bench, only Crawford and Dieng logged double-digit minutes. Brooks played a short stretch in the second and fourth quarters, while Muhammad only played four minutes in the second.

    As noted in the pre-game, no one off the bench was able to guard Oubre so Thibs chose to stick with the starters for better matchups. Oubre still finished with 16 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block. Jodie Meeks scored 12 off the bench on 4-of-6 shooting, all 3-pointers, another thorn in the Wolves’ side.

    Overall it was a bitter end to a fun game to watch. The defense was probably their best in a few weeks, and their offense was good as well, except for the late stretch in the fourth. The Wolves will have to have a short memory when taking on the Pelicans tomorrow night.

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