Minnesota Timberwolves’ end-of-quarter struggles are real, and they are shocking

Head coach Chris Finch of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
Head coach Chris Finch of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves’ issues closing out quarters are not just your imagination, or confirmation bias.

They are, in fact, very real, quite shocking, and have been worse than ever over the Wolves’ recently-completed four-game homestand, and even extending back to the prior road trip.

Let’s look first at the 12 end-of-quarter situations in the first, second, and third frames over the past week, and then at the nine in the preceding road trip.

Minnesota Timberwolves’ end-of-quarter struggles from the last four games

To set the stage, let’s note that the fourth quarter won’t be included here; end-of-game situations are different than end-of-quarter, not to mention that for much of the homestand the final possessions of the fourth quarter didn’t matter.

The homestand included games against Oklahoma City, Dallas, and two contests against Houston. OKC is a below-.500 team, Houston is the only team in the league that the Wolves have actually been favored to beat, and while Dallas is a solid offensive team, they’re miserable defensively.

In other words, it’s not like the Wolves just completed a Lakers-Clippers-Jazz gauntlet. These were winnable matchups and games in which the Wolves should have been competitive.

Out of the 12 possible end-of-quarter situations (again, excluding fourth quarters), the Wolves gave up the final score of the frame a whopping 10 times.

Five of the 10 instances were in the final 10 seconds. Last Monday, they even allowed the Thunder to attempt two shots in the final seconds of the first quarter after OKC scored and the Wolves committed a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass, but the Thunder missed their second attempt.

Minnesota Timberwolves’ end-of-quarter struggles extend further

Now, take a look at the three-game West Coast swing the Wolves went on just prior to their 1-3 homestand.

Incredibly, the Wolves gave up points in the final second of three quarters across two games in Phoenix. In total, they allowed points on the Suns’ final possession of quarters five times in six opportunities.

Against the Lakers, the Wolves gave up a basket with three seconds left in the first quarter and committed a shooting foul with three seconds left in the third quarter.

Add these instances to the homestand, and the Wolves have given up points on 17 of 21 final opponent possessions over their past seven games.

Identifying the Minnesota Timberwolves’ biggest end-of-quarter issues

A blending of multiple ongoing issues is responsible for the otherworldly end-of-quarter execution.

First of all, the Wolves are not a good defensive team. That matters, and it’s obviously a huge piece of the problem. After all, they’re the No. 27 team in defensive rating at 114.7, meaning they give up 1.147 points per possession. So, in that sense, it isn’t surprising that they’re giving up points, it’s just more obvious when it comes at such a notable juncture in the game.

The other thing that plays into this is that the Wolves’ major issues executing “two-for-one” situations at the end of quarters, meaning getting a shot up on their end of the floor, playing defense, and hopefully scoring the final basket of the quarter.

The sloppiness of the two-for-one attempts has been an issue, either leading to only one true shot attempt for the Wolves or simply empty offensive trips compounded by awful defense on the other end.

Inconsistent point guard play is also a problem. Until the last two games against Houston, the Wolves haven’t had a true backup point guard. Rubio is almost always on the bench at the end of the first and third quarters, meaning that a combination of Jaylen Nowell and Anthony Edwards have been in charge of initiating offense and quarter-backing the defense.

Now, with Jordan McLaughlin back on the floor and the impending return of D’Angelo Russell, the second unit should be in better shape moving forward.

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Still, the Wolves need to find a way to not simply kick away the end of quarters. It starts with coaching, but it is ultimately the execution of the players on the floor, and Minnesota has had very little satisfactory execution throughout the season.