After the game, quietly, the Timberwolves tried to explain what had just happened.
The first game back home always is the one you worry about, coach Rick Adelman said. A slow start gave a Knicks team mired in a slump a little confidence, offered center Nikola Pekovic.
“I don’t know,” Kevin Love said sarcastically. “I guess now we play better on the road.”
But none of that can explain how a Wolves team riding the crest of its best road trip in years can come home Wednesday night and lose 118-106 to a New York Knicks team that had lost seven games in a row and 10 of 11.
Given the stakes, given the already thin playoff prospects facing the Wolves, the slow start and bad finish were hard to fathom.
The Wolves were down 12 points before many of the announced 14,294 fans had reached their seats. After fighting back to within two through three quarters, the Wolves allowed the Knicks to open the fourth on a 15-2 run to put away a game Minnesota very much needed. And this happened on a night when the two teams the Wolves are chasing for the final Western Conference playoff spot — ninth-place Memphis and eighth-place Dallas — both lost.
The Wolves (30-30) had gone 4-1 on their longest road trip of the season. They had won six of seven games. And then this?
Carmelo Anthony scored 33 points on 14-for-27 shooting for the Knicks. He had 13 in the first quarter, which ended with New York leading 38-24. He scored six in that 15-2 run to start the fourth. Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton scored 18 each.
New York (22-40) shot 52.2 percent, hit 11 of 27 three-pointers and scored 17 points off the Wolves’ 14 turnovers.
Kevin Love led the Wolves with 19 points. But he had only one after halftime. Nikola Pekovic scored 17 on 8-for-12 shooting, but the Wolves were unable to get him the ball at the start of the fourth quarter after he had helped carry the team back into contention in the third.
The Wolves never led.
“The way we were playing on the road? We didn’t have it here at home,” said J.J. Barea, part of a group of mainly bench players that struggled as the fourth quarter began. “Totally different. Completely different team from the way we were playing on the road. We have to forget this one, come back and try to change it up.”
But time is growing short. After pushing themselves to relevancy on the road, the Wolves came home and, given the stakes, produced one of their worst efforts of the season. Indeed, the best stretch of the night came in the third quarter, when a strong finish turned a 12-point Knicks lead into a two-point game on Corey Brewer’s fast-break layup that made it 88-86.
But that momentum faded quickly.
With Love struggling to score — “I had a bad rhythm,” he said. “Sometimes the ball just doesn’t feel right in your hand.” — and with Kevin Martin struggling with his shot, the Wolves couldn’t keep up with a Knicks team that had more energy from the start.
“This was a hard game,” Pekovic said. “We got it close at one point. I think tonight we missed a lot of open shots. We just [have] to forget this, learn a lesson and try to play better the next game.”
But it will be hard to get past this lost opportunity.
“We can’t give in to say this is a killer,” Adelman said. “We just have to go out and beat Detroit [Friday]. We lost this game, and it’s not going to be perfect. I’m not worried about the damage we’ve done, I’m worried about the way we played.’’