The Timberwolves looked like a team that had figured it all out in the first half at Atlanta on Monday.
After rolling over the short-handed Heat in the second half of their home opener Saturday, Minnesota took its momentum with it on the road, tallying 79 first-half points that, paired with some strong second-quarter defense, created a 19-point halftime advantage.
The Wolves were well on their way to a 2-1 record on the strength of an impressive road victory.
Then came the second half. The script flipped entirely, as Atlanta — which was playing on the second half of a back to back — ran Minnesota off the floor, outscoring the Wolves 67-34 over the final 24 minutes en route to a 127-113 victory.
Minnesota couldn’t get stops and couldn’t generate enough easy looks to keep up with the Hawks’ scoring offense. By game’s end, Atlanta was mimicking the Showtime Lakers with a slew of fast-break opportunities resulting in lobs or highlight-reel dunks. It looked like a varsity team punking the JV.
How a game can be turned so drastically on its head from one half to the next is a mystery, but it almost appears to be woven into Minnesota’s DNA at this point. When what at one point in the game was easy suddenly becomes difficult, the team’s go-to response is to wilt.
“I think we all realized that in the game today, no lead is really secure. I don’t think we lost focus,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told reporters. “I do think once we started to miss a bunch of shots, we kind of let our defense down, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Team-wide struggles cause the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards to revert to bad habits, which causes the bad to get worse. Those tendencies make it difficult for Minnesota to stop the bleeding.
So when Dejounte Murray goes nuclear — scoring 22 points in the third quarter — to tie the game heading into the fourth, Minnesota is in no position to respond with another push of its own. Instead, the Hawks scored the opening nine points of the final frame as well — and the rout was on.
The Hawks (2-2) were 14 for 18 from the field in the third quarter, and shot 50% in the fourth.
“We couldn’t contain anybody in pick-and-roll defense. Murray gets hot,” Finch told reporters. “After that, it was just a momentum game for them.”
Minnesota (1-2) has played two full-strength teams through three games and lost to both of them. Monday’s meltdown even came with Jaden McDaniels back in the lineup after he missed the first two games with a calf injury that derailed his training camp.
Performances like the one in Atlanta make it difficult for fans to fully buy into this Timberwolves team. Who they are changes game to game, quarter to quarter. They haven’t proven trustworthy. Their only consistency is their inconsistency.
Those were traits that ultimately, despite the team’s load of talent, buried the Wolves last season. And, through only three games, this unit is looking awfully familiar to that one.