The Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Milwaukee Bucks 102-96 Thursday night in the second game of a home-road back-to-back. Their record now stands at 22-14, a 50-win pace.
This one played out much like the Wolves’ victory over the Denver Nuggets the night prior….except for the winning part.
The Wolves started off hot, bolstered by blistering three-point shooting and tenacious defense. Karl-Anthony Towns started 3/3 from (he finished 4-of-8) and Andrew Wiggins picked up where he left off the night prior connecting on his first four attempts (he finished 4-of-6; Wiggins’ season 3FG% now sits at 33.1% after going 9-for-14 over the last two games). The Bucks turned the ball over, both forced and unforced, at an aggressive rate in the first half and Minnesota did a good job of making things difficult for MVP candidate Giannis Antetokoumnpo.
The Wolves boasted an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 116.7 and defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 95.8 at the half, both of which are extremely good. The score was 56-46.
Tyus Jones started in place of the injured Jeff Teague, who is expected to miss the next 2-4 weeks with a grade 1 MCL sprain, and was a team high +16 at the half; he had four of his five steals in the first 24 minutes.
But the train slowly became unsteady in the third quarter before completely coming off the tracks in the fourth. By the midway point of the fourth quarter, it became obvious that the Wolves were experiencing pretty heavy fatigue as the defense became more porous and the offense more stagnant.The Wolves’ defensive rating skyrocketed to 109.9 by the end of the game and the offense once again resorted to the visually nonappealing, oft-scrutinized, (but mostly successful) “hero ball” that carried them the night before.
The Wolves had built a 20-point lead at one point, but a 48-22 run to end the game by the Bucks erased any hope the Wolves had of winning.
Jimmy Butler did his best to lead the Wolves to victory yet again, but was mostly mortal (for once) finishing 6-of-16 from the field and 1-of-6 from three; he finished with 20 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. In the end, it wasn’t quite enough.
The game against the Bucks was always going to be a difficult one (they’re currently the fifth-seed in the Eastern Conference and have one of the best and most unique players on the planet), but the schedule didn’t give the Wolves any favors. It’s notoriously difficult to win the road portion of home-road back-to-backs in this league and attempting to do so after a slog of a game that went into overtime the night prior only makes things more difficult.
Fatigue, whether the result of chronic and acute minutes load, loss of sleep dues to flights, or a combination, is a completely legitimate and defensible “excuse” for losing a game and that’s what was witnessed here. The Wolves were down their starting point guard, lost Wiggins (rolled ankle) and Jones (pinky dislocation) at key moments during the second half, and simply ran out of gas.
As far as the argument that good teams find ways to these kinds of games, well, by and large, the Wolves have found ways to do just that. It just didn’t happen tonight. And there is a mountain of research that lays out exactly how fatigue impairs player performance during competition. The loss to the Bucks was a bad loss, but nonetheless a completely defensible one.
Towns finished with 22 points, five rebounds, and four assists and Wiggins added 21 points, three rebounds, and an assist. Jones played admirably before dislocating his left pinky in the fourth quarter (I wouldn’t expect him to miss much, if any, time); he finished with six points, four rebounds, five assists, five steals, and only a single turnover in 35 minutes.
The bench struggled tonight, only scoring 15 points. Jamal Crawford was -22 in 26 minutes of play (11 points, 4-of-13 from the field, 0-of-5 from 3) and Gorgui Dieng was -11 in 15 minutes (zero points, eight rebounds). Nemanja Bjelica, Aaron Brooks, and Marcus Georges-Hunt all logged fewer than 10 minutes.
Eric Bledsoe led the way for the Bucks with 26 points, three rebounds, six assists, and five steals and Antetokoumnpo added 22 points, 10 boards, three assists and a flurry of powerful, yet gracefully mesmerizing dunks. Malcolm Brogdon, last year’s Rookie of the Year, only played four minutes in the first half, but was one of the major driving forces in Milwaukee’s comeback in the second half, contributing 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists in 26 minutes of +20 play.
The Wolves are next in action on Sunday afternoon against the Indiana Pacers. Tip is scheduled for 4 pm.