The Pacers were without three major players — Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner — Wednesday night.
The stage was set for the Timberwolves to finally win two games in a row for the first time since the first two games of the season and generate some real momentum in the Karl-Anthony Towns-D’Angelo Russell era.
And instead, Minnesota fell flat.
The Wolves failed to play much defense for any of the 48 minutes, falling 141-137 to the depleted Pacers in Indianapolis.
“We just didn’t play hard enough. We didn’t play with that urgency,” Towns said. “They had three of their big horses out tonight, and they played with urgency and a desperation right from the beginning and we just didn’t do that. They beat us just by playing harder.”
Indiana shot 59 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
Wolves coach Chris Finch said he liked the team’s first five or six minutes of action, but he felt a lower energy in the group pregame.
That’s inexcusable for a 13-win team that should be salivating over the opportunity to finally win consecutive games.
“It’s disappointing,” Finch said. “We have to learn how to handle having one good game and then starting the other one with the right mindset.”
Towns has talked time and again about how the Wolves are hoping to set a standard down the stretch run of the season.
But failing to defend, failing to show up, really, against banged-up opponents, is a standard that was unfortunately set in Minnesota long ago, and this team is living up — down? — to it.
The Wolves gave up 77 points in the first half and trailed by 21 at the break.
Coming back from a deficit that size is tough, particularly when you can’t get stops. Minnesota did get back to within three points late in the game, thanks largely to the fourth-quarter offensive heroics of Anthony Edwards, who scored 17 of his 27 points in the final frame.
But while he was dominating offensively, Edwards was also the one most often losing his man on defense, resulting in open threes.
The Pacers hit 14 triples for the game. Indiana’s offense essentially was a layup line in the first half. Then Minnesota tried to shrink the paint over the final two quarters, and the Pacers simply beat the Wolves from deep.
Towns finished with 32 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Indiana had five players score 16-plus points, including reserve guard T.J. McConnell, who lit up the Wolves for 19 points and 15 assists. He waltzed to the bucket at will throughout.
Finch said the Wolves have to “address” their inability to follow up one good performance with another. Effort from the outset can’t be this team’s issue.
“I don’t know. Just immaturity. Not enough business-like approach, maybe. I don’t know,” Finch said. “It’s not like we have a team that’s goofing around. … The second unit, when they came in, they were driving us and we just had no answers for them. We even tried zone, we tried switching, we tried everything in that point and time, but we just didn’t have a will to guard the ball.”