ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Why do Timberwolves’ poor fourth quarters matter? Ask the 2021-22 team

Last year’s Wolves never quite figured out how to close games, particularly on the offensive end.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Philadelphia 76ers
Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell controls the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday in Philadelphia.
Kyle Ross / USA Today Sports
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINNEAPOLIS -- It seems like a vibe killer to wallow in Minnesota’s fourth-quarter struggles amid victories. The Timberwolves have won three straight games, correcting in course in some sense to work their way back to .500.

Fans are happy with that, regardless of the path. It’s a much better place to be than where the Wolves (8-8) were a week ago, struggling to even put forth a professional effort. So it’s easy to look past poor closing performances, shrug and say, “A win is a win.”

But it’s not that simple with these Timberwolves. The expectation isn’t to meet what Minnesota did a year ago — when it reached the first round of the playoffs via the play-in — but exceed it. That’s why an organization makes a move like the Wolves made in July, dealing a number of young, talented players and a plethora of first-round draft picks to obtain the services of center Rudy Gobert.

The goals are higher with this group. They are to succeed at a high level in the regular season, then make a legitimate playoff push. That’s why the “how” matters, even in wins. Good teams do things a certain way, and great teams another.

Great teams find ways to perform in the final quarter, particularly in the final five minutes, when so many games, particularly playoff games, are decided. They do not go 7 for 21 shooting in the final quarter of a game in Cleveland, allowing a 22-point fourth-quarter advantage to shrink to two. And they do not go 4 for 18 with six turnovers in the fourth quarter in Philadelphia as a 15-point advantage with eight minutes to play whittles to one in the closing seconds. They especially don’t do that against depleted opposing rosters.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s where Minnesota needs to grow, and now. Last year’s Wolves never quite figured out how to close games, particularly on the offensive end. That group blossomed to such a high degree over the course of the season, but late-game offensive execution was consistently one of the team’s major kryptonites, along with rebounding.

MORE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES COVERAGE:
Pro
Kyle Anderson stepped up again to provide a veteran presence, keeping the Grizzlies from mounting a comeback
Pro
A strong month of January has pushed Minnesota back toward the middle of the Wester Conference race
Pro
New Orleans has now lost six straight games.
Pro
Minnesota’s next four games — starting Wednesday in New Orleans — are against the current top four seeds in the West.
Pro
The victory snapped Houston’s 13-game losing streak. Seven of those defeats had come by 15-plus points.
Pro
Anthony Edwards and Nate Knight provided the necessary jolt for Minnesota to escape with a 113-104 victory.
Pro
More than halfway through the season, that impact is beaming through
Pro
The Wolves trailed by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter before D’Angelo Russell brought the team all the way back.
Pro
After a slow start Monday, the guard scored 25 points in the second half.
Pro
Center scores 20 points and grabs 21 rebounds in Utah’s 126-125 win.

And those two issues sunk the season in that first-round playoff series loss to Memphis, where three of the Timberwolves’ four losses came in games the Wolves led by 10-plus points in the final quarter.

It was after that series that Timberwolves coach Chris Finch reflected upon those season-long issues and the ways in which they show themselves at the season’s climax.

“We know what we’ve learned about ourselves and what we need to do to be better. And how those habits have to be ingrained early and carried out every single night so they stand up when you need it most,” Finch said after the Game 6 loss to Memphis. “I think that’s something that now resonates with the players when you’re harping on it on a daily basis, but they haven’t yet really paid the price for it. Those are just lessons that you learn. Do not touch that, it’s hot-type stuff.”

It was after that defeat that Finch referred to Memphis as a team that didn’t beat itself, and lamented that Minnesota had not yet evolved to that point.

“But that’s OK in the sense that we’re still learning, and playing in these high-leverage situations is huge for us. I thought composure-wise, again, we showed it in our shot selection in the fourth (quarter), and it’s baked in our DNA right now, and we know we have to learn from this,” Finch said. “We’re not all just going to be able to save the day. But moving forward we’ll learn, and we’ll have hopefully grown from it.”

Yet the recent wins — yes, wins — in Cleveland and Philadelphia suggests that growth is still ongoing. For instance, on Saturday, Finch in the locker room told his team, “Hey, turnovers.”

“This is what’s cost us in other games and almost did again tonight,” he said. “We have to recognize this. Just a lot of carelessness out there.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s easy to point to Gobert and note the Timberwolves’ roster is different and, thus, last year’s team and this one are two different entities. But when it comes to closing, the game will often belong in the hands of Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns.

That trio, as well as those around them, have to find a way to play better basketball at the times that matter most in games, so they can win the games that matter most at the end of the season.

______________________________________________________

This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
What To Read Next
Pro
Former catcher and 2009 AL MVP is the 38th member of the team’s hall
Pro
Matt Boldy scored a pair of goals, Marc-Andre Fleury chipped in with 28 saves, and Mats Zuccarello scored the game-winner in overtime
Pro
Evason: 'He’s going to be accountable for his actions in the last game'
Pro
Winners to be announced at the NFL Honors event on Feb. 9