By Sloane Martin
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau was fuming after Sunday’s 100-97 home loss to the Detroit Pistons that dropped their record to 10-6.
His postgame press conference lasted no more than two minutes. Avoiding eye contact, the first three answers he gave were a terse one word: “turnovers.”
Minnesota had 20 and forced 19, but it was the fourth quarter that stung Thibodeau most. The Timberwolves had a chance to tie the game twice in the final six seconds, but it was not the kind of quarter a team with heightened expectations wants to see.
“You have to be at your best,” Thibodeau said. “The fourth quarter is different, intensity is different. You have to get stops down at the other end…You have to play for 48 minutes. We didn’t play our best in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter is different.”
Timberwolves scorer Andrew Wiggins agreed that the fourth quarter was a letdown.
“Three quarters of good defense,” he said. “The fourth quarter we kind of let up, you know, fourth quarter you’ve gotta be more conscious, you know, execute more. Everything changed in the fourth quarter so you’ve gotta make the right decisions.”
The Pistons trailed by 11 with 9:57 left and battled. They scored on 10 straight possessions and outscored the Wolves by 14 in that final stretch.
“That one was really tough,” Detroit head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “If you look, we turned the ball over a lot. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. I mean it wasn’t a very pretty game. We just had to keep fighting and fighting and fighting… I thought our defense over the last five minutes was outstanding.”
What Van Gundy described — fighting and defense — is exactly what Thibodeau wants to see from the Wolves late in games. It’s what he expects after offseason acquisitions turned this team from “young” to “playoff-caliber.” A double-digit fourth quarter lead squandered, even against a solid team like the 11-5 Pistons, is not acceptable to Thibodeau.
“I thought for the most part the first three quarters the defense was pretty good,” Thibodeau said. “They spread you out pretty good, but the fourth quarter is when we have to be at our best. We didn’t get it done.”
Jimmy Butler was fouled on a three-point attempt with 6.2 seconds left. He made the first two, but Reggie Jackson of Detroit stepped into say something before the referee handed Butler the ball for the third one. He missed and Minnesota trailed by one.
“I just missed one,” Butler, an 87.9 percent free throw shooting coming into Sunday, said. “It happens. Everybody misses free throws. I don’t like to miss them, nobody does, but he had nothing to do with that, I just missed one.”
Butler’s three at the buzzer didn’t connect.
“We just didn’t execute it like we say we were going to do, which happens.” Butler said. “But it just hurts to lose at home, man, we got to have the ones at home.”
While Thibodeau was angry, Butler wasn’t about to make Sunday’s disappointing night against the Pistons an indictment on the team’s overall direction. On this date last year, the Timberwolves had won just four of 12 games.
“They scored, we didn’t get stops,” Butler said. “I mean we all saw it. You know, they made shots, you know that’s just part of this league. It just hurts to lose that way and what can you say. You can’t win them all.”