The Timberwolves finally defended at a relatively high level in the first half Saturday in the nation’s capital. They held Wizards’ star Bradley Beal in check and limited Washington to 39 percent shooting over the first 24 minutes.
Yet the Wolves trailed by two at the break, thanks to their own shooting struggles.
“I thought we did a really good job offensively in the first quarter, in particular, when we got to the rim,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “I think we missed four or five of our six or seven shots, they were layups, we kind of just didn’t finish very well, and we needed all these buckets. I thought we should’ve been up 10 at halftime.”
But they weren’t, and that first-half defense dissipated in the third frame. Washington dropped 44 third quarter points to seize control en route to a 128-112 victory.
The loss is Minnesota’s seventh straight, tying its longest losing streak of the season. All that futility is difficult to get out of a young team’s head. Confidence can wane.
“I think you see it in shot making,” Finch said. “The game tightens up and we need to make a shot, and maybe we don’t. If you have a bit of a lead, you’re in that comfort zone, and just when teams make a run on you, you have to fight back. That’s what we need to be. We need to learn how to be a little more resilient right now.”
That hasn’t been this team’s strong suit this season. When opponents have made runs, the Wolves generally fold. These days, they don’t have much firepower to fight back. Without Malik Beasley — who sat the first game of his 12-game suspension Saturday — and D’Angelo Russell — who’s out while recovering from knee surgery — for likely the next month, the team is largely void of perimeter scorers.
Josh Okogie started in Beasley’s place Saturday. A starting lineup featuring the likes of Okogie, Jarred Vanderbilt, Ricky Rubio and Anthony Edwards is going to struggle to shoot, but Finch was hopeful Minnesota could make up for any scoring deficiencies by playing with pace and defending.
It worked out for a half.
But in the third quarter, Minnesota started putting up bad shots and turning the ball over. That led to easy opportunities for the Wizards (13-18), and the avalanche was rolling downhill. Beal was leading the charge. The all-star guard scored 17 of his 32 points in the third frame.
“Offense got stagnant, so that’s what caused us to take a step back on defense,” Vanderbilt said. “They start pushing in transition and putting pressure on us on that end.”
Offense was a tough slog all night for Minnesota (7-27). The Wolves shot just 43 percent from the field, and 31 percent from deep. Edwards had more shots (22) than points (21). Karl-Anthony Towns went 7 for 19 from the field. Nothing came easy. While a leaky defense was — and still is — a concern heading into the night, you can now add offense to the list of concerns.
“I thought we just have to play next-action basketball,” Finch said. “Move the ball again, set a screen, throw two passes in a row — how about that for a change? … I think we all got a little frustrated when they came right back in the game after we got a little bit of a lead. And got frustrated with the whistle a little. And then … we tried to it all by ourselves a little bit, and that kind of hurt us. We just have to trust it. And then when we started moving the ball, in the later part of the third quarter, we didn’t make open shots. we had some good open looks, we just didn’t make ’em.”