MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Timberwolves are the best team in the NBA to start a game. Going into last night's game against the 76ers they had outscored their opponents by a combined 110 points and averaged 30.3 in the first quarter, both NBA bests.
The Sixers, on the other hand, had been outscored in the opening 12 minutes by 119 points through their first 22 games, worst in the league. So to say it was mildly surprising when the Sixers jolted out to a 19-point lead in the opening stanza at the Target Center would be a gross understatement.
Instead of folding, however, the Timberwolves did what they do best: clawed. And the Sixers did what young teams often do: coughed up a big lead. In the end Minnesota came away with a 106-99 win to improve to 11-11 and drop the Sixers to 7-16. It was the ninth straight road loss for the Sixers, fourth straight overall and 12th in 14 games. They tortured themselves by turning the ball over 26 times.
"In a big picture we put ourselves in a position to win a game on the road," said coach Brett Brown, "and it's hard to do that. I give Minnesota credit, but it's disappointing. I think that the energy and the effort that our guys continue to give, I'm proud of. I continue to be proud of what I'm looking at on the floor."
Energy and effort were worthy of the first-year coach's praise on this night, but the execution may have had him gagging over a toilet in his hotel room later. The Sixers' turnovers often had nothing to do with what the Timberwolves were doing defensively. And after that torrid start contributed to a 39-point first quarter, the Sixers managed just 60 points the rest of the way, 38 in the second half.
"We came out with very good intensity and sharing the ball and everybody playing defense, and then we kind of got away from that," said Tony Wroten, who started again for the injured Michael Carter-Williams and scored 20 points. "That's a good team with one of the best power forwards in the game [Kevin Love]. They rebound and do the little things. They stayed with it and it got away from us."
It didn't start getting away until the fourth quarter. And after one quarter, it appeared as if the Sixers were well on their way to a rare road win. They made all but five of their 22 shots in the first quarter, limited the Timberwolves to 20 points on 8-for-26 shooting (30.8 percent) and built what seemed to be an insurmountable lead. But the only predictable thing about a young team is its unpredictability, and that certainly was the case last night.
Spencer Hawes scored 20 points, all after the first quarter. Thaddeus Young and James Anderson each had 16 while Evan Turner had 13, though he made just one of 10 shots after the first quarter.
The inside tandem of Love and Nikola Pekovic wreaked havoc on the Sixers as Love went for 26 points, 15 rebounds and five assists and Pekovic collected 20 points and 10 rebounds. Ricky Rubio chipped in 21 for Minnesota. Robbie Hummel, who didn't see action until the third quarter, scored 10 huge points to aid the comeback.
But the high turnover total, the fact that the Sixers got outscored, 25-12, from the foul line and playing on the road all added up to another loss and another lesson for Brown's club.
"Tonight is disappointing," Brown said. "It's a game I felt like we could have won. I feel bad for our guys. We were in a position to win and we just weren't able to pull it off, I think through a lot of turnovers. Their physical style wore us down a little bit. It gets discouraging when they keep bulling their way in for some offensive rebounds."