A golden opportunity wasted.
MINNEAPOLIS — They might not have to kiss the sixth seed goodbye quite yet, but time is running out for the Wolves.
They picked an awful time to lay an egg in the most critical game of the season in what was another complete lackluster defensive performance in the 132-114 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night. That’s now 130 or more points they’ve allowed in four of the last five games as the defense has fallen off a cliff.
“We didn’t look like a team that was trying to make the playoffs,” said Karl-Anthony Towns. “We looked a little lethargic, can’t afford that in games like this. It’s like a trap game. I’ve been there when you’re out of the playoffs you just want to spoil everyone’s fun, so we knew what they were going to come with. They were going to play their best game and we had to come match that energy and physicality and we didn’t.”
There was almost no defense to speak of on either side in the first half (Wizards were up 67-66) and that extended after the break but mostly by the Wolves, who were destroyed over and over again in the pick-and-roll. Ish Smith (11 points and 14 assists in 30 minutes) Thomas Satoransky (seven assists), and Deni Avdija (17 points and five assists) were driving and living in the paint with almost no resistance from the Wolves’ guards or help from the wings or bigs—everything broke down from there and the result was tons of dunks and layups. They rolled out the red carpet for their guards, they died on almost every screen, and there were defensive breakdowns everywhere in their abysmal pick-and-roll coverage. Just simple action had the Wolves perplexed, and their low effort didn’t help either.
“We did make a lot of adjustments. We actually did every pick-and-roll coverage we have, plus zone. We just got flat out outcompeted.” coach Chris Finch said after the game. “We didn’t really guard them and it was evident from the beginning.”
Rui Hachimura tied a season-high with 21 points while Daniel Gafford had 24 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Kristaps Porzingis killed them at the rim and from behind the arc to the tune of 25 points and 8 rebounds. Washington finished with 72 points in the paint.
“The inability to contain the ball right now is really hurting us. We can’t really sit down and guard the ball,” said Finch. “We didn’t play with any presence or any physicality at the rim. We knew that this team wasn’t a tank team, they were coming in to play hard, they were trying to figure out who they were, get some momentum to end the season.”
Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 10 rebounds but once again followed up an outstanding first quarter (15 points) with a quiet rest of the night in what’s become somewhat of a pattern lately.
“It can’t be something that we just depend on Pat [Beverley] to play defense and fix up all our areas,” said Towns. We got to be able to play team defense. They didn’t score less than 30 in a quarter.”
D’Angelo Russell finished with 17 points and 11 assists. “We just have to care more,” said Russell … after the 80th game of the season. “Business approach has to be there from everybody—a lot of guys on our team haven’t been in this position so we kind of don’t have the right approach and it affects us out there on the court. It’s all approach, all approach.”
Anthony Edwards added 18 points though it took him 17 shots to get there. He had a couple of powerful dunks that got the crowd going but otherwise did not play well and continues to wince at times throughout games as he deals with left patella tendinopathy.
In positive news, Jaden McDaniels returned to action after missing nine games with a high ankle sprain. He was mostly invisible (not like Wes Johnson invisible but still hardly noticed him) but getting him back into the mix for 14 minutes before the season ends is an extremely good thing for a team that looked lost defensively on this night and need his defensive chops to slow down opposing offenses. “He looked like he moved pretty well,” said Finch. “He didn’t really get into the rhythm of the game but we kind of expected that.”
Ultimately, the Wizards crushed the Wolves when they had an incredible opportunity to move a game closer to the sixth seed with Denver losing to the Spurs, and that stings. This was a golden opportunity wasted.
“We’re just not physical enough,” said Finch. “We’re not putting a body on anybody. We’re not making it hard for the ball handler, we’re not making it hard for people coming off actions right now, we’re too loose, we’re too soft there. As a result, it seemed like a step late to the play.”
Russell was also asked how the team has been communicating the urgency of these games down the stretch when it didn’t seem like they played all that urgent. “It’s a lot of saying, a lot of saying, a lot of speaking, speaking. But we need more doing, doing. More action.”
With two games remaining on the schedule, the Wolves technically can still sneak into the sixth spot in the West with wins against the Spurs and Bulls, and two Nuggets losses, but they picked the worst time to have a dud performance and they all know it.