Even if Will Barton had missed the game-clinching three-pointer for Denver with 30.9 seconds remaining Monday night, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders wasn’t optimistic his team was going to take advantage of the opportunity.
Saunders could see Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. flying into the paint untouched among multiple Wolves who were all watching the ball instead of bodying up the nearest opponent.
“If it didn’t go in, Porter Jr. probably got a tip dunk,” Saunders said. “As a coach, you look at all aspects of a play because you know you have to get better.”
The Wolves have been trying to improve their rebounding all season. It’s an area that Saunders said has been “up and down.” It just seems to hurt the Wolves at the most inopportune times.
There was a possession earlier in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game in which Malik Beasley hit a three that came after two offensive rebounds for Denver — and even before that, Beasley stole the ball from Gorgui Dieng after he had rebounded a miss. So four shots on two quick possessions finally resulted in a three that gave Denver an eight-point lead instead of the Wolves heading the other way with a chance to make it a one-possession game.
The Nuggets rank No. 1 in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, and the Wolves did a decent job keeping them off the glass for three quarters. But as has happened too often for the Wolves’ liking, they couldn’t end a possession when it mattered most.
“It’s frustrating anytime the ball goes in the basket. We understand this is the NBA,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “People are going to score. But ... the second-chance points are more demoralizing because it’s like building a sand castle at the ocean, and then it just gets wiped away, and then you’ve got to start it all over.
“So we’ve got to make sure those things are done, complete and finished. We’ve got to finish on a possession.”
To Towns, who would rank No. 11 in the NBA at 8.3 defensive rebounds per game if he had enough minutes to qualify for the leaderboard, finishing those possessions comes down to having an element of determination.
“It’s the fourth quarter. It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to have that toughness,” Towns said. “We’ve got to have that fight. We’ve got to go get that ball. It’s all of us. We just didn’t do the little things well enough, especially in the fourth quarter when you’re playing a team like that.”
The Wolves rank 21st in defensive rebounding percentage at .725, which is where they’ve languished for most of the season. They actually have a slightly higher ranking during fourth quarters (18th) despite having a similar percentage at .724.
“I think we’ve been good rebounding as of late,” guard Josh Okogie said. “We just couldn’t get them down the stretch. I think we were good rebounding [Monday], to be honest, but down the stretch, just two or three makes it seem bigger than it really was.”
It makes it more of a gut punch for the Wolves, especially if the basket scored against them is a three late in the fourth quarter.
“The thing I do not love is that some of the rebounds that we’re giving up, the offensive rebounds, we’re giving up in crucial, winning-time moments,” Saunders said.
Too often, it becomes winning time for the other team.
“When you get to that fourth quarter, it’s different,” Towns said. “We’ve got to get those rebounds. … Those are big-time rebounds to get at that point.”