The Minnesota Timberwolves finished their 2018 home schedule with an ugly overtime loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at Target Center.
Friday night was supposed to bring the Minnesota Timberwolves within a game of the .500 mark with two winnable contests left before New Year’s Day.
Instead, they fell behind be 22 points early to a nine-win Atlanta Hawks squad and were forced to battle all the way back. Which they did, managing to lead by nine with under eight minutes to play in the game and by four with 41.9 seconds left.
The Wolves got what appeared to be a game-sealing stop on defense, only to see the Hawks grab three consecutive offensive rebounds and finish the possession with a John Collins tip-in.
After a timeout, Minnesota inexplicably threw the ball away on an inbounds play in the frontcourt from Dario Saric that led Karl-Anthony Towns towards the backcourt and was stolen by Kent Bazemore, who had an easy breakaway dunk to tie the game.
On the final possession of regulation, the Wolves predictably went to a Derrick Rose isolation play that brought over a late screen from Towns. Rose forced up a tough shot near the paint that was blocked and appeared to aggravate his injured ankle on the play.
In overtime, the Wolves still managed to grab back momentum and take a two-point lead that would have expanded to four points with under two minutes left as Robert Covington shook open and received a perfect pass from Saric. After having missed a dunk late in the fourth quarter, however, Covington appeared to pull up as he went up to avoid dunking too hard, but the ball slipped out his hands and Trae Young hit a deep three with 1:49 on the clock.
The Hawks led by four with under a minute left. Two free throws from Towns and a stop on defense led to two potential game-tying free throws from Wiggins with 4.5 on the clock. Wiggins only made one, and Dewayne Dedmon made two on the other end, giving Minnesota 1.7 seconds to inbound and try to tie the game.
With Rose’s ankle ailing, Josh Okogie was in the game at the two-guard. He received the inbounds pass in the corner and double-clutched as DeAndre’ Bemby flew by and made contact with the rookie. There was not a foul called, however, and the game was over.
1. Missed free throws
There would be no other way to start the takeaways from this game. And it wasn’t just Andrew Wiggins, although his misses were certainly the most devastating.
The Wolves shot a horrendous 21-of-38 from the line on the night — just 55.3 percent. Uncharacteristically, Towns went just 10-for-15. Nobody outside of Towns and Wiggins, who was an atrocious 5-for-12, missed more than two free throws.
Wiggins missed four of his six attempts down the stretch, however, and unfortunately chose to call out Timberwolves fans after the game.
The rebounding was nearly as bad as the free throw shooting, as the Wolves were out-rebounded by Hawks, who are absolutely a smaller team than Minnesota, by a 58-47 margin.
Towns had 19 boards for the Wolves while Covington had seven and Wiggins grabbed six. But Taj Gibson and Dario Saric combined for only nine rebounds in 56 minutes — not acceptable from the power forward spot.
Saric was playing better than Gibson and was the better choice in this matchup, but he did not battle enough in the paint.
3. Open 3-pointers
The Timberwolves actually attempted a palatable number of 3-pointers in this one, but still only made 11 of their 32 attempts (34.4 percent). The Hawks, on the other hand, were 16-of-35 (45.7 percent).
The difference wasn’t necessarily that the Hawks have better shot-makers, it’s that they were able to generate open 3-point attempts, especially during the first half. In the meantime, the Wolves didn’t attempt many long-balls in the first half and ended up launching tough, contested jumpers for much of the second half and overtime.
There were enough makes at the right time of the game to complete the comeback and take a modest lead, but the amount of open threes that the Hawks were able to attempt compared to the Wolves was absolutely disproportionate.
The Wolves are now 16-19 on the year after splitting their last two games against teams that came into the contest with just nine wins. They’ll head to Miami to take on the Heat on Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.