Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 1/9/12
This was a real game, one of those matchups where it's anyone's win for most of the fourth quarter. Fans can't leave too early. Conclusions can't be drawn before the buzzer. But somehow, it was over before it ended, Minnesota fading in the final seconds, relying on fouls to cling to a chance. There was a sort of background suspense to most of Monday night's game. Neither team started out as better, per se, both at 3-5 coming into the night. And despite the seconds of hot and cold, the long streaks of ineffectiveness from both teams, this was a real game. With two minutes left, it was anyone's contest. And then it was last Wednesday against Memphis all over again, out of reach and frustrating. A DeMar DeRozan steal with 42 seconds remaining and its two resulting free-throw points pushed the score to 91-82. The Timberwolves' offense was doomed, and it failed to close again, losing 97-87."I told the team we have a chance to keep improving, but we can't just do it for thirty minutes. It's got to be a full game," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. It's been four games, now, since the end of the Timberwolves' disastrous early-season schedule. Their opponents are beatable, and no one's knocking their chances before the opening tipoff. But the team hasn't been able to stabilize along with its schedule. Toronto's starters provided their team with its biggest edge. They combined for 75 points31 for Andrea Bargnaniwhile the Timberwolves' starters combined for just six points more than Bargnani alone. Timberwolves starters finished with a combined plus-minus of -95, compared to the bench's 45. Instead of providing some relief, a jolt of energy, the bench had to do much more. It was responsible for erasing the deficits that the starters left, and it proved to be too much despite 16 points from J.J. Barea and 13 from Derrick Williams. And, for the first night all season, there was no Kevin Love to count on. He was there, of course, on the court for 36 minutes with just 13 points, a season low. But the team has to learn that Love isn't perfect. He has to be allowed to have a night like this every week or month."We're right in the game, and we have to get quite a few people well playing well and shooting the ball well," Adelman said. "We just didn't do it tonight. That's one thing that you look for down the stretch, and tonight a lot of our guys were struggling down the stretch." Despite playing catch-up for much of the night, Minnesota managed to tie the game at 73 early in the fourth quarterwithout a starter on the court at that pointonly to finish on the down side of a 17-7 Raptors run. Toronto knows that getting back to defense at the end is the key to winning games, Jose Calderon said, but the tired Timberwolves offense was far from a challenge at the end."We've got to be a little bit tougher than we were tonight," Adelman said.Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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