Wolves fall to Hawks at buzzer
By Jerry Zgoda
ATLANTA — While their coach rested his surgically repaired back home in Minnesota, the Timberwolves rose from flat off theirs Thursday against the Atlanta Hawks only to lose for the 15th time in 17 games, 90-89 on Joe Johnson’s shot at the buzzer.
Trailing 26-7 late in the first quarter, the Wolves reversed course with a 27-8 third quarter that helped thrust them to an eight-point lead that they couldn’t hold at the very end.
"That’s why we’ve got to win games like that," Wolves guard Sebastian Telfair said, referring to their league-worst record. "We tried everything we possibly could. A game like that, we have to win. It’s like sticking a knife in my heart."
The lead changed hands six times all night, four times alone in the final 20.9 seconds, when Marko Jaric, playing for the first time since Friday’s loss to San Antonio, twice put the Wolves ahead only to see first Josh Smith and finally Johnson take it back.
"They make a play, we make a play," said Wolves rookie Corey Brewer, who went from not playing at all in a game 10 days ago to a 44-minute, 18-rebound, four-steal, 3-for-15 shooting night. "And they were the last one to make a play."
The Wolves went from lifeless to inspired when Jerry Sichting, the acting head coach while Randy Wittman recovers at home from back surgery, turned toward a shortened rotation he discovered that "showed signs we had a heartbeat": Brewer for all but 48 seconds of the second half, Craig Smith in an expanded role and Jaric and Telfair, the team’s two point guards, playing together again for long stretches of the second half.
On Thursday, the Hawks turned that 19-point, first-quarter deficit into a 69-61 lead with 11:24 left.
That one slipped away when Josh Smith scored 15 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter, including a wild, spinning banked shot in a wild, spinning final 21 seconds.
Sichting went against coaching convention with an in-bounds play that created Jaric’s layup and a 87-86 lead with 20.9 seconds left rather than playing for the game’s final shot. Smith followed with that banked shot with 7.9 seconds left — "Maybe he called bank, but I don’t think so," Sichting said — and Jaric countered with a gutsy layup with 2.2 seconds left.