ATLANTA — As unofficial team records go, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman’s post-game appearance after Saturday’s 93-91 loss at Atlanta was nine words longer but one second shorter than the January night in Memphis two years ago when Kurt Rambis barely stepped out of the locker room long enough to blast his team’s defense.
This time, Adelman fully stepped out into a Philips Arena hallway after his team lost an 18-point, third-quarter lead — and eventually the game — and questioned justice in this world (and the NBA) rather than harrumph about a team that had no counter when the Hawks slapped a zone defense on them midway through the third quarter and transformed the game with a 24-2 run.
“There’s something wrong,” he said. “I don’t have anything to say. Our guys did everything they could to win that game and it just didn’t happen. That’s all I have to say.”
Then he successfully retreated back into an arena anteroom unlike that night two years ago, when Rambis spun around only to find the heavy metal door locked behind him and he pounded on it like an agitated Fred Flintstone wailing for Wilma to let him in.
Adelman seemed agitated at an officiating crew that made a series of calls down the stretch the Wolves coach and his team protested, calls they deemed cost them a victory one night after they had won in New Orleans.
In particular: A foul on Kevin Love that resulted in Hawks forward Ivan Johnson’s winning free throws with 4.6 seconds when the Minnesota bench yelped for a charging call instead.
Afterward, he sat at his locker stall and talked slightly more on the subject than his coach was willing.
“Eventually, we will get respect from you-know-who,” said Love, who riffed on the theme in a tweet as the team headed home later. “I don’t want to get fined. I like my money, I want to keep it. That’s about as many words as I want to say. Obviously, I said too much already.”
The Wolves built a 71-53 lead by late in the third quarter the same way they beat the Hornets the night before: With Love and rookie point guard Ricky Rubio once again clearly leading the way.
Rubio’s 18-point, 12-assist, 5-steal night delighted a sparse opposing audience on a night when the crowds that clogged traffic outside the arena headed to the monster-truck pull at the Georgia Dome next door instead.
Love reached 30 points in consecutive games for the second time in his career. His 30-point, 13-rebound performance exploited a Hawks team playing without injured starting center Al Horford until Atlanta switched tactics out of desperation and slapped down a zone defense.
Quickly, a 9-0 Wolves run had turned into that 24-2 Hawks’ burst that gave them a four-point lead with fewer than eight minutes left.
The Hawks received energetic performances from reserves Ivan Johnson and Willie Green while Adelman searched everywhere to get Love and Rubio some help. When Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic, Derrick Williams and Anthony Randolph didn’t provide, he turned to Wayne Ellington and little-used Nikola Pekovic, both of whom provided valuable fourth-quarter minutes.
Atlanta made just one three-pointer in the first three quarter, then made six in the fourth quarter alone.
“It’s our fault,” Rubio said. “We were up 17, 18. They did different zone. We blocked up. We just stopped running when they did the zone. We stopped scoring. When you are 18 up, you have to control more of the game. We have to learn that.”