Down two points with 5.5 seconds to go, Thad Young rebounded a missed Isaiah Thomas free throw, pushed the ball up the floor, passed it to Chase Budinger, who darted diagonally across center court from left to right, ultimately finding Andrew Wiggins for a good look from the right wing with the clock winding down to zero.
It didn’t go in.
If you have been following the Wolves closely lately, you probably know how often Flip Saunders has repeated something to the effect of “Developing and seeing signs from the young players is nice, but it’s important to have positive reinforcement and win every once in awhile.” So while everyone was ready to talk about Andrew Wiggins’ terrific night – 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and several big plays down the stretch – Saunders was clearly frustrated with the loss, offering only measured praise for outstanding individual performances and commenting that he’ll spend time going over the events of the night, particularly the final 30 seconds, in his head. The loss stung him.
After the game, a dejected Mo Williams (who sprained his ankle and had to exit the game with 20 seconds to go) echoed Flip’s thoughts. “I think the coach is doing a good job keeping us motivated,” he said. “It’s tough, it’s tough. We just have to continue to keep fighting.” When asked if he’s noticed the development in Andrew Wiggins’ game in particular, Mo responded by saying that he’s seen growth in all of the team’s young guys, and added: “Growth is good, it’s great for you guys to write about, it’s a great story, but… we don’t like losing. It sucks.”
Thad Young echoed these sentiments. When asked if he and his teammates trusted Andrew Wiggins to take that final shot, he replied that they have confidence in all of the young guys. “They’ve improved tremendously this season. They’re still continuing to improve. It didn’t work out tonight, but we have lots of confidence in everyone we put out on the court.”
Everybody on the team has the right to be upset about the loss. They’re highly competitive, motivated people, and it’d be foolish to expect otherwise. But with all due respect to Flip, Mo, Thad and the rest of the young players who had nice nights and the veteran players who want to avoid favoritism by treating all the kids as a group… HOLY CRAP, EVERYONE, ANDREW WIGGINS IS COMING INTO HIS OWN, AND WHEN HE PLAYS WELL, THE LOSSES DON’T HURT ME AS A WRITER OR AS A FAN. NOT AT ALL. NOT EVEN A LITTLE.
When the ball clanged out on Wiggins’ final three point attempt, my first reaction was to smile because damn, that would’ve been sweet. Cheering isn’t really allowed in the media section, but if it had gone in, I don’t think I would have been the only one to react somehow. This game was fun. Capping it off with a win would’ve made it more fun, but even though Wiggins missed the game winner, his aggressiveness and defensive excellence for the other 39:54 of his time on the court more than made up for it.
The incomparable Dawk Ins made the definitive Wiggins highlight reel from last night, which I will bookmark and watch on gloomy days to lift my spirits:
Over his past 8 games, Wiggins is averaging 21.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals on 52/42/69 shooting splits. The Wolves have lost all 8 of those games. If you can’t enjoy what Wiggins is doing because the team is losing, or if you don’t want to watch the team at all because they’re 5-29, there’s the door. Seriously. Get out. The players can (and should) be mad about the losing streak and the crappy record, but that’s their livelihood. As fans, understanding the context of the season is important. The crown jewel of this past draft, and the Kevin Love trade, the guy who is still a teenager, is coming into his own. Win or loss, it’s fun to watch.
A few other odds and ends from this one, in no particular order:
– This was a funny thing that happened. Classic fake dunk assist by Shabazz:
– Muhammad went 0-for-3 in the first half with 2 turnovers, but still pulled down 4 rebounds and dished out 4 assists. He got into the scoring column in the third quarter, racking up 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including a couple of very nice finishes on Wiggins assists. It’s subtle, but it’s clear that Shabazz and Wiggins are beginning to get comfortable with one another on the floor.
– Plus/minus isn’t everything, but the Wolves were plus-7 in Mo Williams’ 35:23 and minus-9 in Zach LaVine’s 12:37. Mo had his best game as a Timberwolf, scoring 23 points on 14 shots and dishing out 11 assists. Despite all the turnovers in the game, the offense was as efficient and cohesive as it’s been since Rubio went down early in the season – as long as Mo was on the floor.
– There was one sequence that summed up both LaVine and Bennett at this point of their careers. Early in the second quarter, as LaVine walked it up the floor on offense, Anthony Bennett was jogging along with him and looking at the sideline, palms in the air, asking what the play call was. Confused, LaVine and Bennett just ran a simple pick and pop, which resulted in a Bennett miss. The very next trip down the floor, there was more confusion over what play to run, so LaVine and Bennett improvised again, this time resulting in a Bennett dunk.
While Bennett had his best game in quite awhile as the first man off the bench in both halves (miss you already, Jeff Adrien), putting up 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds, it’s little things like these that need to improve in order for him to get more consistent minutes.
– Long before the Wiggins missed three at the buzzer, there were three other big factors that hurt the Wolves’ chances to win. The first had to do with Gerald Green going bonkers when Andrew Wiggins was getting some rest at the end of the 3rd quarter through the start of the fourth. Green notched 15 points in 4:29 of game action (from 0:51 of the 3rd to 8:22 of the 4th), bringing the Suns all the way back from being down 7 to being up by 4. The second had to do with Alex Len dominating Bennett, who was playing the five while Dieng got some rest during the middle of the fourth quarter. Finally, there was this turnover by Chase Budinger in a big spot:
– The Morris twins got matching technical fouls within three and a half minutes of one another in the third quarter. Twins, am I right?
– The Wolves had 30 assists on 44 made baskets, which is encouraging. They also turned it over 22 times and allowed 42 (!!!) fourth quarter points, which is discouraging.
– The song that kept popping into my mind as I thought about Andrew Wiggins’ recent emergence was “The World is Yours” by Nas. I’ve been going on a hip-hop crash course as of late, having never listened to much before, and Nas’ debut album Illmatic is already one of my favorites: