For one of the few times this season, the Timberwolves' game operations team didn't have to pipe in music after the pregame introductions for the team's coach. Instead, when public address announcer Shawn Parker said Ryan Saunders' name, a loud ovation overtook Target Center as Saunders' name was emblazoned on the scoreboard on another Prince-themed night.
The sellout crowd embraced Saunders, who is a nod to the franchise's past through his father Flip, and, fans hope, the start of a future that once seemed bright when franchise cornerstones Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns first came to town.
It will be hard for the Wolves to top the drama and emotion of Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City. They came close Friday, but they ultimately fell short in a 119-115 loss to Dallas, Saunders' first loss as interim coach.
The Wolves fought their way back from a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to tie the score 107-107 with 2:45 to play. They and the Mavericks went back and forth, with young stars Luka Doncic and Towns getting a pair of buckets, before a Taj Gibson tip-in with 35.7 seconds remaining that gave the Wolves a 115-114 lead. But after the ball changed hands a few times on the next possession, it came to Doncic, who buried a 3 near the top of the key with 22.9 remaining for a 117-115 Dallas lead. The Wolves passed up multiple open 3-pointers on their next possession, and lost the ball as Derrick Rose tried to pass to Towns in the post. Harrison Barnes converted a pair of free throws at the other end to seal the game.
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Doncic finished with 29 points while Towns had 30 points and 11 rebounds. Rose added 21 in his first game back from a right ankle injury.
The Wolves came out with the best of intentions and plenty of energy, but the execution wasn't there in the beginning. They missed their first six shots as they struggled to get anything to fall early. The Wolves got back on track but while they did, Towns hit the floor after appearing to injure his ankle, which caused him to go to the locker room with 3:12 left in the first. The Mavericks took advantage the rest of the quarter to take a 28-26 lead into the second. The Wolves took a whopping 33 shots in the first, but made only 11 of them.
Their offensive woes rolled over into the second quarter, when Dallas was able to open up a sizable lead.
Towns was able to re-enter the game with 9:28 to play in the second quarter – in the middle of an 11-2 Mavs run. It was Doncic who gave the Wolves all kinds of issues again. He recorded 15 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the first half. If not for Towns providing a modicum of efficiency to the Wolves offense, the Dallas lead might have been bigger than 61-50 at the half.
But the Wolves made quick work of erasing the deficit in the third quarter thanks to an unlikely source – Josh Okogie's 3-point shooting. Okogie, who was shooting 24 percent from deep entering the night, hit a pair of 3-pointers as the Wolves opened the second half with a 13-2 run. But then Towns picked up his fourth foul with 8:10 remaining in the half and the Mavericks responded by re-establishing an 11-point lead, 79-68 and kept it at 85-78 entering the fourth quarter. The Wolves clawed their way back, not with a burst, but by chipping away and finally tied it 107-107, setting up the excruciating end game that didn't fall their way.