This Timberwolves team could only resist its fate for so long.
It’s the fate that befalls a lot of Minnesota men’s professional sports teams — the inevitability that they will bring crushing disappointment in the postseason.
Should the Wolves go on to lose this series against Memphis — and who knows how they come back from the kind of collapse they suffered in their 104-95 Game 3 loss to the Grizzlies? — they will point to the final 15 minutes, 10 seconds.
A 25-point lead vanished in 6 minutes, 37 seconds of game time. Now the Wolves know how long it takes a heart to break.
It seemed like less in real time to Thursday night’s once-raucous Target Center crowd that gave the home team a smattering of boos after a shellshocked fourth quarter.
“It looked bad, but it doesn’t feel as bad as it really was,” said guard Patrick Beverley, who tried to dress up the mess with a positive tone.
How do they come back from this, a 2-1 series deficit that feels like a much more massive gulf given the Wolves choked away two 20-point-plus leads?
“We’re not going to let this game affect [Game 4], for sure,” Finch said. “We’ll be fine.”
That seemed hard to believe, especially for a fan base that isn’t used to seeing this team succeed in the playoffs. What do you even do next?
“Go home, drink some wine and move on to the next day,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
Towns, especially, couldn’t wait to do that after the night he had.
Again, he got in foul trouble and was livid about it on the bench. Again, he struggled to score against a team that defended him with a smaller lineup but brought frequent double-teams. He had only four shot attempts and eight points.
“Next question,” Towns said when asked about his lack of shots.
Towns’ lack of production actually wasn’t a problem for a large portion of the night. The Wolves channeled the energy of a boisterous arena crowd into a 26-point lead in the second quarter. But they scored only four points over the final 10:28 and led 51-44 at halftime.
Though they tried giving away that lead, it didn’t work. They used that experience to finish the job in the second half. The Wolves scored 12 points in both the second and fourth quarters.
“They were down big. They stayed in the fight,” Beverley said. “They kept swinging. They didn’t let go of the rope. I felt like once we got the big lead we were kind of on our heels.”
Until they finally toppled over.
First, they rebuilt the lead to 25 through the third as Russell woke up for the first time this series with a team-high 22 points. Then Memphis pieced together another run while the Wolves peaced out.
Their defense limited Ja Morant to 16 points on 5-for-18 shooting to go with seven turnovers, but Desmond Bane lived up to his last name from the Wolves’ point of view with 26 points and seven made three-pointers.
Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones stuck it to his old team with 11 points, including the three that put Memphis ahead for the first time all night at 86-85 with 7:09 left. When Dillon Brooks hit a three to put Memphis up 10 with 1:17 to play, Memphis began its celebration. The Wolves began the mourning process.
Finch, Russell and Beverley all tried to remain upbeat.
“We’ve just got to stay even-keeled,” Russell said.
Towns was the only one who spoke postgame who conveyed how upset he was. He gently wrapped his fist on the table while answering some questions, his anger barely below a simmer, before he looked for the positives.
“Stick with each other,” Towns said. “Believe in what we’ve done all year and continue to believe in it through ups and downs like this.”
Never were they more up and ended up so far down.