The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Sunday 4th in the league free throw attempts per game and 6th in free throw percentage. Per the great John Schuhmann, Jimmy Butler was 72-of-76 (95%) from the line in clutch situations over the past two years. Andrew Wiggins, despite his own free throw struggles (62%), was knocking down 80% in the same situation. As a team, the Wolves were coming off three consecutive decisive victories, two of them on the road, and won 8 of 10 overall.
Despite playing the first 24 minutes to a near draw, with a late push capped by a crazy Jimmy Butler floater giving the Wolves a 4 point halftime lead, the Wolves managed to assert themselves in the third quarter. Nemanja Bjelica, who’s had the best month of his basketball career, re-entered three minutes into the second half, and the score tied; by the time he sat down, Minnesota was up 9. He was excellent yet again, knocking down a three, driving to make plays for teammates, and even directing traffic a few times when he was playing off the ball. Jimmy Butler was, of course, the team’s primary mover and shaker, accompanying his stellar defense with a 5-of-5, 12 point quarter. It appeared the Wolves were ready to cruise to their fourth consecutive decision victory.
But here’s another statistic/trend that held true to form: even with their recent success, Minnesota entered Sunday dead last in the NBA in 4th quarter Net Rating, at a negative -9.6 points per 100 possessions. Detroit won the final frame by a score of 29-17. Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson combined to score 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting. There was a stretch, from the 10:00 minute mark to the 6:30 mark, where the Wolves went 0-for-3 from the floor, turned the ball over three times, and gave up two layups and an alley-oop going the other direction. Then there was another stretch, from the 3:20 mark to the end of the game, where the Wolves made 1-of-5 shots, missed two key free throws, and allowed the Pistons to hit all five of their field goal attempts, including two layups and another alley-oop.
Point is, Minnesota’s offense fell apart, and their defense gave up a ton of easy looks. With 1:02 to go, just after the Wolves had squandered the lead for the first time since early in the 3rd, this ugly Jeff Teague shot was all they could muster:
Then, coming out of a timeout, down three, the Wolves swung the ball wildly before being bailed out by a somewhat awkward, but ultimately effective, Nemanja Bjelica running bank shot:
Despite all of it, the Wolves had a chance to tie the game with 6.2 seconds to go, when Jimmy Butler was fouled shooting a three-pointer. He sank the first two foul shots, but then… well… Reggie Jackson did something annoying, which is something Reggie Jackson does very well:
omg. Reggie Jackson successfully interrupts the rhythm of Jimmy Butler’s game-tying free throw attempt. Pistons win. pic.twitter.com/hZ5gR6kptD
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) November 20, 2017
Which, you know, whatever. Jimmy was right to glare at Jackson, because it’s a little bit bush league, but you’ve still gotta sink the foul shot. And he didn’t.
After Tobias Harris sank two free throws, the Wolves had the chance to inbound under their own basket with 3.3 seconds left (and no timeouts). Butler still managed to get a pretty decent look, which nearly sent it to overtime, which is not something the Wolves deserved, but nearly happened anyway:
A few more bullet points:
-Make the damn free throws.
-Minnesota is bad in the clutch.
-Reggie Jackson, could you not?
-The Wolves played pretty damn poorly when it mattered most, and still nearly won, and I can’t tell if that’s funny or frustrating. There was no grand social media freakout about this game. It was odd.
-Minnesota is 10-6, which is still a 51-win pace.
-The minutes distribution, on the front end of a back to back, is not great!
-Tomorrow’s game in Charlotte will be a good test of the team’s mental toughness and fight.