“I didn’t want to lose.”
Early on, this game looked like a mirror of last year’s Target Center matchup against Philadelphia. Bad offense, bad defense, turnovers and LOTS of foul trouble.
But this time, Andrew Wiggins refused to lose.
It wasn’t just the points. He’s gone off on Atlanta and Orlando this year already. Last year, he had big nights against Cleveland, Sacramento, Denver and Houston. Wiggins has had big scoring performances in the past, but not like this. This was Wiggins’ best game as an NBA player.
The game was bad to start. Bad, as in “worst basketball the Wolves have played all year” bad. Fouls were in high volume (Adreian Payne fouled out in the 3rd quarter). The bench had one of its roughest collective efforts of the season. And to boot, Jahlil Okafor outplayed Karl-Anthony Towns, who was in foul trouble all night.
Ricky Rubio was part of a scary moment towards the end of the second half, when he fell on the foot of a defender coming at the hoop. He finished the game, but he was hobbling badly. He played the second half and looked fine, but it was the cap of one of the worst halves so far this season.
But a run of 6 straight points from Kevin Garnett in the third quarter (who had 8 points and 10 board in 17 minutes) brought energy back onto the Wolves sideline. This, of course, got KG into a frenzy, which generally gets the rest of the team to follow suit. The game went back and forth for the next 10 minutes, remaining somewhat close. But it still felt like a different game.
Even Okafor, who had 19 in the first half, was held to just 6 in the second. A 70 percent 3rd quarter shooting performance got the Wolves on the upswing. As the fourth began, it was back and forth for a while. Neither team was able to get into a rhythm to pull away.
But then Wiggins took over.
It started with 6 straight points to bring the game within two. He took advantage in the post and off the dribble and finished over and over, rising above the Sixers interior defense with more poise than a 20-year-old should possess.
There were a few of these plays towards the end of the fourth. He had 15 points in the quarter, got to the line 6 times, and had virtually every Sam Mitchell play drawn up for him to take the shot.
The Wiggins show really took off on this play, though. (It should also be noted: Jerami Grant’s block to stop the K-Mart dunk was disgustingly great).
What made Wig look so poised, though, came shortly after, the play that gave the Wolves a two-possession lead, and put the game out of reach. Wiggins drove, with the knowledge that the defense was collapsing. Instead of forcing a shot, he threw a pass to a wide open Kevin Martin.
It’s clear that Wiggins has improved, but tonight was the first time (besides maybe the win in Atlanta) where he truly put the team on his back and willed his team to a win.
Tonight’s game was by most means, an ugly one. There are very few teams in the league the Wolves could have played this poorly against and come up with a win. In most cases, the score wouldn’t have been within single digits through the first half. But tonight, it was, and the Wolves took proper advantage in the key situations.
Because sometimes, you’re not going to play well, even against a winless team (see: last year). Sometimes, key players are going to get into foul trouble, and so will their backups. Those games are tough to win. But sometimes, all it takes is one guy that just refuses to lose. It started with Kevin Garnett, who has refused to lose in the NBA for 20 years. But it finished with Wiggins.