Karl-Anthony Towns had a pen in his hand and pointed it toward the Zoom camera frequently as he swung from side to side in his chair and spoke in frustrated tones following the Timberwolves' 118-107 loss to Memphis on Wednesday.
The Wolves endured multiple blowouts this season and a few close losses, but perhaps none was as deflating as the most recent, at least in Towns' eyes.
The Wolves were near full strength with only reserve Jake Layman out for personal reasons, and in an NBA season the COVID-19 has upended in the first month, these nights may be few and far between. On top of that, Memphis had multiple contributors out because of injury, including reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
But the Wolves couldn't close to the door on Memphis, who came barging through to erase a 12-point early fourth-quarter with a 14-0 run in the span of 2 minutes, 18 seconds. It left Towns sounding exasperated.
"You don't give these teams that kind of life, especially when they're missing two of their star players," Towns said. "We're going to get a loss like this when we let go of the rope, don't do what our system does and don't have the discipline or the integrity to keep going to the game plan that was obviously working for the first three quarters."
Towns main bone of contention was with the defense. How the Wolves became undisciplined in the second half, how they fell for repeated pump fakes from Jonas Valunciunas (24 points) and Kyle Anderson (seven), especially in the fourth quarter when the Grizzlies outscored the Wolves 38-17.
"It's very frustrating, to say the least," Towns said. "I'm more disappointed with our discipline than our effort. We've got to do better than that in the fourth quarter. We can't have three quarters and be up by 10 and be 'Cool, like that's now how this NBA works. ...
"But it's the NBA — no boys allowed — so we've got to be grown … men and be ready for the next one."
As long as Towns (25 points, 14 rebounds), D'Angelo Russell (25) and Malik Beasley (28) were on the floor together things were fine for the Wolves, who built leads with that trio on the floor. But sit any of them and it became a problem, especially in the fourth when only Russell was with Ricky Rubio, Naz Reid, Jarred Vanderbilt and Jarrett Culver as Memphis made its run.
Memphis' bench outscored the Wolves 50-21 and the Grizzlies had 80 points in the paint, as coach Ryan Saunders pinned the latter on a continued lack of physicality.
"Usually that comes with experience and with time," Saunders said. "Unfortunately we don't have that. We need it now."
Towns said the Wolves didn't back up all they have said publicly about who they want to be.
"Can we stop the ball from being in the bucket is where the growth really comes into our team," Towns said. "That's what makes us be a team on the fringe to still in the playoffs, a high-playoff seeded team to a championship team."
Russell sounded disappointed as well but not as demonstrably or vociferously as Towns. After he fielded a question about his, Towns and Beasley's production, he replied: "That's irrelevant. We lost."
Before that, he said the biggest issue was the Wolves couldn't score down the stretch, not necessarily the defense. A different take from Towns that ended at the same place.
"We stopped scoring points in the fourth. It's that simple," Russell said. "Stopped getting stops. Stopped scoring."
And ended up losing.