Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo and guard Jalen Brunson stand together during the...

Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo and guard Jalen Brunson stand together during the second half of an NBA game against the Timberwolves on Monday in Minneapolis. Credit: AP/Abbie Parr

MINNEAPOLIS — It was the last stop of a five-game, eight-day road trip, and if the Knicks wanted to look for an excuse or explanation for what transpired, that would be a place to start.

It’s not the way of Tom Thibodeau or his players, who have bought into his mantras, to seek those excuses, though. So the reality was that in a true test of where the Knicks are right now, they looked like, well, a team at the end of a five-game road trip.

“Nah, we won’t use that as an excuse,” Julius Randle said. “We just didn’t start the half off strong or finish off this road trip the way we wanted. We had a chance to make it a great trip and we came up short.”

Trailing by two at halftime, the Knicks were run off the court in the third quarter in a 117-100 loss to the Western Conference-leading Timberwolves on Monday night at the Target Center.

Jalen Brunson had 25 points and Randle added 21 points and 14 rebounds, but they got little help. RJ Barrett was 1-for-9 from inside the arc and Quentin Grimes shot 0-for-6, all from beyond the arc, after missing two games with a sprained left wrist.

The Knicks may not admit it, but something caused them to look as if they were on their last legs. They shot 23.7% from three-point range.

“I mean, being tired is part of this,” Brunson said. “We can always control our energy and the little things on the court. So I think honestly they just beat us to the punch tonight in the second half and we didn’t react as fast as we could. We cut it to like 12 or 13 with like six minutes left. We just gotta react better. That third quarter, we gotta be ready to go.”

In some ways, the Timberwolves mirror the Knicks, patiently holding the core of the team together as critics and skeptics lobbied for trades to change up their fortunes. Like the Knicks, they returned essentially the same rotation from last season. And perhaps they heard even more calls for breaking it up after the team swung a huge trade for Rudy Gobert last season that didn’t seem to work out.

At one point, they lost six straight games, and the criticism was mounting. But coach Chris Finch stuck with the group, and when Mike Conley was added in a trade-deadline deal, the Timberwolves suddenly seemed to find their form. Minnesota sits atop the Western Conference at 10-3 and is 6-0 at home.

“Credit to them,” Barrett said before the game. “They’re doing the right things. They have the right pieces and looks like they’re figuring it out. So credit to them. A very good team and it’s going to be a fun matchup.’’

Minnesota began the third quarter with an 11-0 run to open a 69-56 lead. Anthony Edwards started it with a midrange jumper, and after a three-pointer by Karl-Anthony Towns, Edwards added a pair of free throws and a 20-foot jumper.

Edwards scored 11 of his 23 points in the quarter as Minnesota outscored the Knicks 35-19, building leads of as many as 21 points. The Knicks never got within single digits in the final 20 minutes.

The Knicks had won six of their last seven games entering Monday and three straight on this trip. But the counter to that is that in the two true tests — starting the trip in Boston and ending it in Minnesota — they were unable to show they measured up.

Notes & quotes: Brunson was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaging 28.5 points and 6.5 assists per game and shooting 54.3% from three-point range. “It means a lot,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing without my teammates, and I think that’s very important the way they have my back and the way we’re able to go into games, win games most importantly. That’s how individual accolades come about. So it’s all about us winning. That’s all I care about.”

“Don’t get locked into that,” Thibodeau said. “Just lock into playing well each and every day. That’s really been his strength throughout his career if you look at him through high school, college, the pros. He takes it day by day. There’s no excuses by him. He’s a great worker. You have back-to-backs and then a day off, he’s going to the gym to shoot. He’s mentally tough, and that’s why he’s had the success he’s had.”


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months