MINNEAPOLIS -- Andrew Wiggins is growing up.
The No. 1 overall pick led the Wolves to an unexpected victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night with 23 points, a career-high 10 rebounds, and four assists - his first double-double in the NBA.
"The baby Wolves grew up a little bit," head coach Flip Saunders said after the game. Indeed, after six straight losses, including a 14-point road loss to the Blazers only 10 days ago, they did grow up a bit.
Wiggins looked the part of a No. 1 pick, providing a scoring punch the Wolves desperately needed to close out the game. With 3:55 left in the fourth quarter he drained a 19-foot jumper to put them up 80-74. The next possession he got to the line and split the free throws, but the Wolves regained possession on his missed second attempt and Wiggins responded with a clutch 14-foot jumper to make it 83-74.
Portland made the game interesting after that, but they didn't have enough left in the tank to comeback as the Wolves were able to secure a surprise 90-82 victory over the Trail Blazers at Target Center.
"I thought tonight we were extremely aggressive, Wiggins looked like the No. 1 pick tonight. His ability to get shots, take things over, take big shots at the end, went and got 10 rebounds, got on the floor for a couple loose balls, couple steals, four assists. He knew that we were going to him in the fourth quarter. He came in and he delivered," Saunders said.
Corey Brewer - who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals in 38 minutes (including a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line) - also talked about the maturation of Wiggins' game. "We're growing up a little bit. Andrew was big for us and we were running plays for him, he was making shots. We were just together and we knew what we were doing and we were actually executing."
Outside of an impressive game by Wiggins - undoubtedly the best performance of his short NBA career - it was the Wolves ability to neutralize one of the league's finest power forwards, LaMarcus Aldridge, that spurred them to victory.
Throughout the game Saunders opted to bring the double-team on Aldridge whenever the ball touched his hands, effectively forcing him to kick it out to the perimeter where the Wolves dared the Blazers to beat them from deep. The result? Aldridge went scoreless in the first half, which hasn't happened since 2008, and Portland finished 10-for-35 from beyond the arc. Damian Lillard scored 23 points to lead the Blazers, though it took him 24 shots, and Wes Matthews added 18 points. But limiting Aldridge to 10 points, nine rebounds and five turnovers was key.
"They doubled me the whole game. They did for the whole first half consistently and for the second half I really couldn't get a rhythm. Every time I tried to find one they'd come double again so their whole thing was to take me out tonight and they did," said Aldridge.
In terms of defense, this was arguably the most inspiring play of the year. The Wolves have been among the league's worst defensive teams through a quarter of the season - only the Lakers have a lower defensive rating at 114.6, compared to the Wolves 112.8 - but held one of league's premier offenses to a season-low 82 points (Portland is sixth in offensive rating at 109.5). They did it by switching every pick-and-roll for the second consecutive game, a strategy that seems to be working on the surface, while keeping the ball out of Aldridge's hands, getting into passing lanes, contesting Portland's 3-point attempts, and quickly pursuing every loose ball.
"Defensively we've been good, even in our last game our defense was pretty good against Golden State and it was pretty good tonight. We put a lot of emphasis on working on our defense and we've been a little bit better. Jeff Adrien was big off the bench for us and the guys gave it a great effort," Saunders said.
In fact, Adrien was the real x-factor for the Wolves - chipping in 8 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks in 26 minutes off the bench. His defense on Aldridge was a welcome sight, while his hustle and vocality became contagious throughout the game. Shabazz Muhammad also brought an energy and intensity off the bench with 11 points and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes, though he struggled with his shot as well as finishing at the rim through contact (4-14).
Ultimately, Saunders elected to cut his rotation down and the move worked out. Outside of Adrien and Muhammed, Anthony Bennett (scoreless in 10 minutes) and Robbie Hummel (2 minutes) were the only bench players to see the court. But truthfully, this game was all about the growth of Andrew Wiggins. He delivered his best performance yet.
How about some Vines to celebrate! (via @cjzero)
Shabazz Muhammad posterized Chris Kaman last night. After the dunk, Muhammed screamed with enthusiasm and a previously quiet crowd suddenly came alive.
Zach LaVine had one of his best plays in a Wolves uniform, tossing a sweet alley-oop to a streaking Thad Young...