Frustrations are mounting in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves — who are a top-10 outfit by pace-adjusted point differential — can’t seem to come away with wins in any of their close games. It’s a spiral of bad luck and poor execution, and on Wednesday that combination was responsible for the Wolves coughing up a six-point lead to the Suns with a little more than a minute and a half remaining. Error begat error, until Minnesota’s hold on the game was severed entirely by Gerald Green’s go-ahead jumper with three seconds remaining. The Suns 104-103 win pushed the Wolves’ record to 0-10 in games decided by four points or fewer, and in the process seemed to send star forward Kevin Love over his boiling point.
One could isolate any number of factors (shoddy halfcourt defense, effortless rebounding, costly turnovers) for Minnesota’s poor performance in close games, or the basis for this late-game loss in particular. Yet what seemed to irk Love most was the fact that the team itself wasn’t on the same page, as exemplified by two frustrated, nameless Wolves keeping their seats on the bench during team timeouts. Love brought up that particular instance following the loss, per Nate Sandell of ESPN Radio:
“We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench, who play good minutes, just sitting there and not getting up at timeouts,” Love said. “We all need to be in this together. That kind of pisses me off. We’re supposed to be a team.”
…Love kept going when asked again about the situation.
“It’s to a point that where those two guys, if and when I did that last year when maybe I didn’t sit out for the game for 48 minutes and so on and so forth, they would have killed me,” Love said. “They would have aired me out. It’s two guys we expect more from them, and I think they expect more from themselves.”
“I’m not trying to single anybody out, and I don’t want to make it bigger than it is. That was a team we needed to beat tonight. Even guys that didn’t play any minutes, we need to have a team on the bench that’s really in it together.”
The two Wolves in question are all but confirmed to be J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham, the former of which already took exception to Love’s criticism of the bench following a Dec 30 loss to the Mavericks. Both were removed with 8:07 remaining in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, just as Minnesota’s lead had begun to dwindle. What’s odd: The timing of the substitution itself was typical to Rick Adelman’s fourth-quarter patterns, though it’s possible Barea could have been bothered by something more specific. Ultimately, though, Minnesota’s starters were outscored by 12 points in 23 minutes of action on Wednesday, including that costly seven-point surrender over the final minute and a half.