The outcome in Game 6 of the Timberwolves-Lakers series was not in doubt. This became clear about 30 minutes after Game 5, when Laker Coach Phil Jackson met with reporters.
“I feel bad for Flip [Saunders],” Jackson said. “I know what he’s going through, when a team finds it impossible to make anything click.”
Game, set, match.
When Saunders & Co. get that all-too-familiar pat on the head from the opposing coach in the first round of the playoffs, then you know the series either is over, or about to be.
Whether Jackson, in an unusual gesture, was just trying to be nice to Saunders, it is the worst kind of patronizing, and all too familiar to the Wolves.
They have been told to bask in moral victories many times.
In being eliminated, 101-85, by the Lakers in Game 6 on Thursday night, it is hoped that the Wolves will have the decency to not even hold onto that slender thread.
By midway through the third period, they trailed by 17 points, and though they sliced the lead to six to start the fourth, Kobe Bryant finished them with 10 points in the first three minutes of the fourth period.
Kevin Garnett didn’t exactly answer the challenge in Game 6. He turned the ball over once during the Bryant run, and finished with only 18 points, the last four coming in garbage time. And down the stretch, the Lakers were wheeling and dealing so free and easy that it was as if a Harlem Globetrotter exhibition had broken out.
Before the series began, it would have been considered respectable for the Wolves to take the three-time defending champions to six games.
So how did the Wolves find a way to make the accomplishment feel less substantial?
How did we get here in such a short time? How does a team squander the goodwill it seemed to have gained only a few short days ago? In Game 2, the Wolves had recovered from a disastrous opener to not only win, but blow out the Lakers. They followed that with an overtime victory in Los Angeles, and convinced such noted hoops luminaries as Jack Ramsay that they had a realistic shot to steal the series.
In Game 4, they had every opportunity to take control of the series, but the Lakers stole it. The lesson was clear: When you have a superior team on the ropes, jump on them before they remember who they are.
Yet by Game 5, heads had started to pop up. Target Center had the kind of buzz it had not had in years. There was an opportunity to make fans believe this was not business as usual.
But with the exception of one brief stretch in the second quarter, it was never a contest. A championship team put a pretender back in its place, 120-90. The air of anticipation was replaced by the usual resignation: Too much bad luck. Too many bad moves. Too many broken promises. The same old finish for the Wolves, and an opportunity lost.
Dan Barreiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.