Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 1/30/12
MINNEAPOLIS Giving up a lead is a matter of perspective. One team blowing it is another team fighting its way back in, and no one wants to claim the more passive role. On Sunday night in the Lakers' locker room, losing an 18-point lead was deemed irresponsible, blowing it. They'd let the Timberwolves back into the game. Lakers' coach Mike Brown mused that he'd love to see some film, to really look closely how it had all happened. These are the Lakers, after all. In their minds, lesser teams don't fight their way back into games. That the Timberwolves could do so seemed almost unfathomable to this Los Angeles team, but to the Timberwolves and all their fans, Sunday's gut-wrenching romp through the second half was nothing out of the ordinary. In 20 games nine of them wins the Timberwolves have been in the lead at the end of the first quarter in just five. At the end of the half, they've only led four times. Moreover, in those nine wins, they've led only twice at the end of the first quarter and twice at the half. What might once have been called a comeback is now nothing more than routine. So in some ways, Sunday's 106-101 loss to the Lakers fell into the Timberwolves' formula, a pattern of late runs that's not for the faint of heart. Down by as much as 18 deep in the third quarter, the Timberwolves took a two-point lead, 91-89, in the fourth, and with just three seconds left in the game, the Lakers had just a four-point lead. But a loss is a loss the phrase "there are no moral victories" has echoed through the Timberwolves' locker room all too often this year and the team's dismal start to Sunday's game and many others has so far thwarted any efforts to reach .500. "Collectively as a team, it kind of took us too long," Kevin Love said on Sunday night. "That's kind of been our Achilles heel. We figure if we start the game well, we can always finish it well. We've been a second half team really throughout this whole year." In fact, the Timberwolves have been one of the best second-half teams in the NBA. They're sixth in average second-half points, with 48.3, and in second half margin, outscoring opponents by an average of 3.4 points in the game's final 24 minutes. Sunday night's loss almost perfectly fit that profile; the Timberwolves outscored the Lakers by three in the second half. Some nights, that 3.4-point margin has been enough, but all too often it's been too little, too late. "We've got to learn that we've got to play with energy all the time," Timberwolves' coach Rick Adelman said Sunday. "It took us until that stretch in the third and fourth quarter that we started running and started attacking them." As encouraging as the second-half statistics are, the Timberwolves' first- and second-quarter numbers are equally dispiriting. The team is 24th in the league in first-quarter points, averaging a mere 22.6 in the quarter when starters should be energized and efficient. The team goes into the locker room at halftime down by an average margin of 2.1 points, often not yet out of the game but far from in control. In a 48-minute game, the Timberwolves have too often seemed like they're alive for just 24 or even 20 minutes. According to Ricky Rubio, who often has provided the spark for his team's late comebacks, the Timberwolves never seem to "punch first," and he's observed a sort of pattern to the madness. From the outset, the starters lack energy, lagging behind but never pushing the game out of reach. On a good night, the bench fights back, pulling the team back into contention, and those same starters return to determine the game's outcome. Often, defense has kept the Timberwolves alive throughout games, and it's had to remain constant during late offensive drives. But against teams like the Lakers, which boasts the offensive firepower Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, there are only so many stops opponents can make. Wins are possible, but coming back from behind requires almost near perfection at both ends of the court. "If we would have started the game off like we finished it, it would have been a different outcome," Michael Beasley said. When Brown watches video of the second half of Sunday night's game, he'll see second-chance points and behind-the-back passes. He'll see defensive stops and balls tipped into the net after far too many Timberwolves' offensive rebounds. The tape won't be encouraging, but at the same time, he may be able to admit a bit more of a passive role in his team's near-implosion. Blame is irrelevant, though. A win is a win, no matter how sloppy, and players control their own destinies, not only in the fourth quarter, but in every minute of every game. "We've got to take it upon ourselves," Beasley said. "We are professionals. That should be motivation enough to go out and do your job at the highest you can be." So maybe the Lakers can't take all the responsibility for blowing last night's lead, but they do and should get every bit of credit for the win, and the Timberwolves' biggest challenge will be to break the pattern that doomed them on Sunday. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter
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