PHOENIX – Like the glass that’s filled halfway, the Timberwolves’ 118-110 loss at Phoenix on Saturday presented a fundamental question.
Did the Wolves allow a deciding 14-0 run because they didn’t score a point for four minutes or because they couldn’t defend the Suns a lick when it mattered most?
You probably can guess where Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau stands on the timeless half-full or half-empty question. But when it came to his team’s second consecutive loss after a 7-3 season start, he chose the middle ground when deciding whether his team’s offense or defense hurt more down Saturday’s stretch.
“Both,” he said.
He particularly lamented the offensive execution with four minutes left, when the Wolves had a 103-99 lead, the ball and a timeout with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. Karl-Anthony Towns settled for and missed a three-point shot with guard Jimmy Butler positioned favorably against Devin Booker nearer the basket.
“We were up four,” Thibodeau said. “That was a big play. We just didn’t execute there.”
From there, the Wolves missed shots, took bad ones, were forced into a long, desperate shot and turned the ball over twice in 23 seconds. They didn’t score for seven consecutive possessions.
The Suns roared from a 103-97 deficit with 4:46 left into a 111-103 lead with 51 seconds left after they seemingly turned every Minnesota miscue into a basket. Young stars Booker and T.J. Warren combined to score 70 points.
“You can’t give guys like that room,” Thibodeau said, “and we did.”
One day after he vowed to be more aggressive offensively, Butler blamed both himself and his team’s defense for enabling the Suns to end a five-game losing streak.
“We didn’t guard,” Butler said. “It’s hard to win in this league when you’re constantly trying to outscore the other team. Yeah, we can score, but we’d make it a lot easier on ourselves if we decided to play defense. We have to stop giving up 100 or whatever we gave up the last couple games, pretty much all year. We’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be the one that sets that tone, man.”
Butler spent much of Saturday’s game trying to hold down Booker, arguably the NBA’s most prolific young scorer. He did so without much success.
“That’s on me,” Butler said. “He whipped my tail tonight. I wasn’t up on shots. He got to anywhere he wanted to go on the floor. We’ve got to be better on the defensive end, and it starts with me.”
After building momentum in the season’s first 10 games, the Wolves have started a three-game trip that ends Monday in Utah with losses at Golden State and Phoenix.
“We just didn’t execute and finish,” Towns said. “That’s the way the game went and that’s why we lost. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities. We had the lead and we didn’t capitalize and that’s what happens.”
A third-quarter lapse cost them Wednesday in Oakland, Calif. On Saturday, the Wolves allowed Phoenix not only that late 14-0 run but also a 10-0 burst earlier in the fourth quarter.
“This one is going to hurt for a little bit,” Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson said. “We feel like we let one go. That’s one game you really don’t want to lose to a struggling team like that. You want to go in there and get the job done. … We’ve got to be resilient. Games like this happen in the league. You’ve got to learn from it, stay positive and move forward.”