Last Shots: On the third quarter problem, the bench, Paul Millsap, and KAT’s dunk

MINNEAPOLIS – Twenty-two quick thoughts for Minnesota’s 22 made free throws in the 103-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night at Target Center.

1. The Wolves have a third quarter problem. It’s no secret that they’ve not been great in that quarter of games routinely this season. Whether they’ve let teams back into games after building a first half lead – like Wednesday – or allowed teams to blow them out, it hasn’t been a good period for them.

2. Wednesday night they entered the locker room at half time with a 56-50 lead over the Nuggets. Karl-Anthony Towns was an efficient 4-of-6 in the first half and Derrick Rose brought energy off the bench with eight points on 4-of-5 from the floor.

3. Then, the third quarter came.

4. Minnesota was outscored by Denver 35-18 in the quarter, turning what was a six-point lead into an 85-74 deficit. The Wolves were out-hustled, out-shot, and saw some calls go against them in the period, and all that proved to be too much to overcome.

5. “I mean, s*** happens,” Derrick Rose said after the loss. “It’s part of the game, we just need to understand where we’re at. This is the first time that we’ve been in the position like this where I thought we was supposed to win the game, but we let it slip.”

6. “Paul Millsap took over,” Jeff Teague said of the quarter.

7. Rose is right, things like that do happen, but the third quarter has been consistently bad for Minnesota throughout the year. The Wolves routinely come out of the locker room with less energy than they go into it with.

8. Teague is right, too. The only answer the Wolves had for Millsap was a facial laceration that caused him to miss some time in the second half. Other than that, he was fantastic. Millsap finished with 25 points on 11-of-13 from the floor and five steals on the defensive end.

9. The only thing that made this game close was the play of the bench. The bench lineup of Rose, Gorgui Dieng, Dario Šarić, and Tyus Jones mixed with one starter in Robert Covington, brought the Wolves back from down 11 at the start of the fourth to within one thanks to a 14-4 run to open up the period. That group brought life back to the team and to what was a sleepy Target Center.

10. “I told [coach Tom Thibodeau] to keep them out there, but, whatever,” Teague said.

11. The starters were then unable to finish the deal in the fourth. They couldn’t get the final stop when needed, and they couldn’t get the basket to fully overcome the deficit they created, despite how close they came.

12. This is a team that needs Towns to take care of the ball better, too. The turnovers have been piling up on him, as he had six more against the Nuggets. In the last five games he’s had six, four, three, five, and 10. Those numbers are far too high with a player that has the ball in his hands as often as he does.

13. Towns also has been struggling passing out of double-teams lately for the Wolves. Teams recognize how good he is with his back to the basket, which they should, and send a second man to him. At times this year he’s done a fine job getting the ball to the open teammate. Over the past couple of games, he has not.

14. On the bright side, Towns did have arguably the best dunk of his career in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night. This slam over Millsap was the most impressive part of his night, without question.


16. It’s a disappointment for this team, it’s a missed opportunity, and it’s a sour end to what could have been an outstanding home stand that started with three straight wins and new life injected into the team.

17. Instead, the Wolves have to look themselves in the mirror again as they sit at 7-11 on the season and in second-to-last place in the Western Conference. Yes, they’re technically only three games out of a playoff spot, but 20 games into the season they have an uncertain feeling. The pieces may be in place to make a run, but that’s still unknown due to lack of time together with this group.

18. This was the first of three games in four days for this team, and the next two are very winnable, if not “must-win” games if this team wants to be competitive. Heading to Brooklyn for an awkward Friday morning start could be the team’s first road victory of the season. If it isn’t, then the Wolves would be five games below the .500 mark and further away from the playoffs.

19. It’s only early in the season for so long. Sooner or later, the Wolves cannot afford to miss opportunities like this one. After Brooklyn on Friday the Wolves take on the Chicago Bulls at home Saturday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday in Cleveland. A win against Denver could have set them up to go on a potential four-game winning streak.

20. Nevertheless, Minnesota has Thanksgiving to regroup and figure out a way to get a victory in Brooklyn.

21. With Thanksgiving here, I will be off-duty Saturday while the team is at home against the Bulls. I will likely have something recapping the weekend that was on Sunday or Monday.

22. That being said, I will be in Cleveland for the game Monday night against the Cavaliers from Quicken Loans Arena. Talk to you then. Happy Thanksgiving.