After the game ended, Shabazz Napier made his way out of the Timberwolves locker room and back onto the Target Center floor, where he took 100 free throws. The Wolves’ locker room was quiet, subdued. Andrew Wiggins was sitting at his locker stall, Karl-Anthony Towns had already left the building.
What was there to say?
“As low as you can get,” Napier said. “This is it.’’
Monday night at Target Center began with a tribute and ended with the seemingly impossible. It was emotional, evocative and, ultimately, embarrassing.
The Wolves opened the game paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant. They spent three and a half quarters — more, really, — setting franchise shooting records and dominating the Kings.
They spent the final 2 minutes of regulation in free-fall. The result: On a night in which the Wolves made a franchise-record 23 three-pointers they lost, 133-129 in overtime, for their 10th straight defeat.
The Wolves made history. They also gained infamy. According to ESPN Stats & Info, since 1996-97, the first year of play-by-play data, NBA teams entered the day 0-8,378 when trailing by 17 or more in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Make that 1-8,378.
“I’ll say we win as a team, we lose as a team,’’ Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “No matter what, we should be able to play with a 15-point lead with a couple minutes left. They made shots. We didn’t execute our defensive game plan. We didn’t get rebounds when we needed to. We didn’t make the needed plays. It ends up in a really tough one for us.’’
The Wolves led by 27 after Andrew Wiggins hit a floater with 3:46 left in the third quarter. They led by 22 when rookie Jarrett Culver set the franchise record with the team’s 21st three-pointer on the opening possession of the fourth quarter. They led by 19 with 5:42 left and by 17 when Wiggins hit a three with 2:49 left. They were up 13 when Ryan brought Wiggins, Towns and Napier to the bench with 1:39 left. They re-entered the game with 37 seconds left and the Wolves up seven.
The Kings’ Buddy Hield was hot. He scored 20 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 of those in the final 2:02. He and De’Aaron Fox combined to score 19 points in a 21-4 run over the final 2:30.
In that stretch the Wolves went 1-for-6 and missed two free throws — by Napier, with the Wolves up six with 34.9 seconds left.
After that: Hield hit a 29-footer and Wiggins missed. With 4.7 seconds left Fox was fouled. He made the first, deliberately missed the second off the front rim. He got the rebound and scored to tie the game.
In overtime two free throws by Nemanja Bjelica with 48.3 seconds left broke a tie and put the Kings ahead for good.
“We’ve got to remember this,’’ said Wiggins, who scored 36, made seven of 11 threes, had nine boards and eight assists. Robert Covington had 24, making six of 10 threes. “For sure, this is a bad way to lose.’’
Which is why Napier was shooting free throws after it ended. “As a point guard, you’re not supposed to miss free throws,’’ he said. And then, later, when asked about Bryant: “The competitor he is, he would be upset with us, truly upset with us. ... Today we did a dishonor to him, to the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, to the fans.’’