With Kevin Love's shot off, Wolves unable to fully compensate in loss
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MINNEAPOLIS -- After watching another shot just miss its mark, Kevin Love walked by the Timberwolves' bench late in the third quarter shaking his head, showing off a faint smile of disbelief that reflected the building aggravation he was trying to contain.
Love has been a constant force since the onset of the season, fully embracing his role as the Wolves' always-reliable cornerstone.
But when Love couldn't shake off a poor shooting night Wednesday in a 102-98 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, he found himself battling a mental game against a level of frustration he hadn't felt yet this year.
"For the first time," Love said. "I don't know if it was from being tired or the shots weren't falling, they were getting away with a lot, but my emotions got the best of me. But that happens to people now and then."
Love, under a physical onslaught from the Clippers, converted only twice on 14 shots. The free throw line helped get him to 10 points on the night, but even there the misses found him (6-of-10).
However, pegging Love's shooting struggles as the main reason the Wolves ultimately came unraveled against the Clippers would be a far too easy scapegoat.
Minnesota's problems went well beyond Love.
One night after letting a win slip away against the then-two win Wizards, a streak of poor shooting and an inability to keep Los Angeles' scoring runs in-check prevented the Wolves from sneaking away with a win that would have been key in their currently brutal schedule.
Despite their 37.8 shooting percentage (34-of-90), the Wolves never fully faded from contention. Twenty-five points from the free throw line helped keep them alive. But their continual fight against the Clippers' scoring bursts finally got the best of them.
Whenever Minnesota gained a lead, it quickly disappeared. A 10-3 run by the Clippers to start the fourth quarter created an 11-point lead that the Wolves cut to one point with four minutes to go. Chris Paul and his 16 fourth quarter points made sure Minnesota didn't get any closer.
"It's a tough loss," coach Rick Adelman said. "Just too many spurts by them, too many in the start of the game, start of the second quarter, into the second quarter, fourth quarter. They had these spurts where they'd go up 10. It's hard to come back from that."
Love's typical prowess as a go-to scoring threat was missing, but he wasn't a nonfactor. He was forced to find other ways to affect the game and did so with 12 rebounds and a season-high eight assists.
"He didn't make any shots, but I thought he played a good game," Adelman said. "Look, he kept playing the game even though nothing was going for him as far as scoring ... He's going to have games like this. Unfortunately, we have to have all our guys have good production."
Kevin Martin overcame a rough night against the Wizards (4-of-17, 11 points) to unleash 28 points to go with 10 rebounds. Nikola Pekovic also turned out a solid performance, contending with a powerful Clippers frontcourt. But the overall lapses by the Wolves, both offensively and defensively, took away the edge needed to beat out the Clippers late in the game.
Martin was particularly frustrated afterward, but it stemmed from Tuesday's loss to the Wizards that he blamed himself for. By dropping a game that was in their grasp at the start of a stretch of five games in seven days, Martin reasoned, the Wolves put themselves in a difficult situation against the high-powered Clippers.
Martin didn't want to take any solace in the fact that the Wolves (7-6) have stuck with the Clippers almost blow for blow in two games this season.
"I don't think this team wants any moral victories," Martin said. "It was my fault, mainly, playing the way we did last night and losing that game. So tonight, with a great team like this, it could go either way. That's why you can't the ones go like last night.
"We're in a tough stretch right now, but we're going to find out what this team is about."
That stretch doesn't ease up much in the next week with Brooklyn awaiting them Friday, followed by a road trip to Houston and Indiana.
What hindered Love Wednesday was uncharacteristic and it's hard to envision it happening to him again Friday night. But if it does, Friday or any other juncture in the season, the Wolves must find ways to compensate.