NEW ORLEANS – Tuesday's 128-125 Timberwolves loss wasn't supposed to end this way for the Wolves, not with Brandon Ingram draining a winning 26-foot three-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining.
The Wolves didn't lose because of that shot, coach Chris Finch said. They lost the game in the first half, when they came out flat against an opponent below them in the standings, an opponent they handled easily in their own building in November.
"We thought it was going to be easy," Finch said.
It was anything but. The Pelicans still needed to put in quite the effort to beat the Wolves, with Ingram hitting three threes in the final minutes to outduel Anthony Edwards, who scored 20 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter.
Ingram's shot from beyond the top of the key put an end to a night in which the Wolves clawed back most of the second half to take a brief one-point lead on an Edwards shot with 3 minutes, 32 seconds remaining.
Ingram put New Orleans ahead again with a pair of threes until the Wolves came back again to tie it on a layup from D'Angelo Russell with 3.5 seconds remaining. Ingram then sent everyone home without overtime. The Wolves felt like they didn't deserve this one, their first loss in five games against a team with worse record than them entering the night.
"The last four were trick games," said guard Patrick Beverley, who had 10 points in his return from a two-game absence because of right groin soreness. "Clippers [were] underhanded. [Oklahoma City] one of the worst teams in the NBA. Houston one of the worst teams in the NBA. So you get in the zone, obviously scoring a lot of points and that's what you think is the recipe for winning. It's not.
"Our recipe has always been defense."
That was lacking, especially in the first half as New Orleans had 28 fast-break points and shot 55%.
Finch had a synonym for Beverley's "trick games." He called them "fat wins."
"We were looking for shortcuts," Finch said. "I don't think we underestimated our opponent as much as we were looking for shortcuts."
There were a lot of emotions from the Wolves after the game. From Edwards, there was regret for how he started the game despite his finish. He didn't score or have a rebound in the first quarter.
"I blame myself …" Edwards said. "I just wasn't playing at all. It would be different if I was taking shots. I wasn't taking shots, I wasn't being aggressive, I wasn't making plays. I wasn't doing anything. I was just out there."
Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 26 points in another physical battle with frequent foe Jonas Valanciunas, pounded the table at which he was speaking so hard it threatened to drown him out.
"We acted like we was just going to walk in, get a win and it was going to be sweet," Towns said. "We going to come in, get a five-game winning streak, it's cool. This is the NBA. You've got to work for that. It ain't just given. We came in here acting like it was going to just be given to us, this game."
Edwards said the Wolves started to have a high opinion of themselves recently and Tuesday was a reminder that they shouldn't. They could have finished the midway point of the season above .500; instead they are 20-21 when it didn't have to be this way.
"We needed this game though," Edwards said. "Every time after we win three, four in a row, we kind of get cocky and lose our humbleness and think we the team, but we not the team."