On a night when Ricky Rubio returned from a four game injury absence, the story of this Timberwolves win was the play of the bench. The second group especially did a fantastic job late in the third quarter and early in the 4th to keep the Wolves in the game and establish some momentum in a game that had been a real struggle up to that point.
Zach LaVine made several big shots, including a spectacular drive and left handed finish in the third quarter as the Wolves were hanging in the game, and finished with 17 points. Shabazz Muhammad, in perhaps his best game of the season, was instrumental in getting the Wolves going with his aggressiveness, and ultimately finished with 16 points on 6-8 from the field. Finally, mention must be made of Adreian Payne's 17 minutes of action. Although there were, as always, a few head scratchers, Payne contributed on a night when Nemanja Bjelica didn't have his game working. Payne finished with 8 points and 4 boards, and managed to actually score in the post against Hassan Whiteside, something the other Wolves were unable to do.
The game started badly for the Wolves under a barrage of blocked shots and dunks from Hassan Whiteside, who appeared to have the entire Wolves team intimidated within the first few minutes of the game. They simply could not get shots off inside against him, and wound up settling for their usual long jumpers.
Fortunately for the Wolves, he eventually left the game, and the Wolves were able to get close heading toward halftime, which arrived with the Heat holding a five point lead. The Wolves got out of the gates early in the third quarter, as rookie Karl-Anthony Towns finally found his game after looking lost for the 2nd time this season against Whiteside. A couple of jumpers, a put back, and all of a sudden the Wolves held a lead.
It wouldn't last, as Towns went to the bench in foul trouble, and Luol Deng got hot for the Heat, while the Wolves once again found themselves bereft of options.
It was the fourth quarter that the Wolves really dominated, outscoring the Heat 41-22, led by Muhammad and LaVine early, and Andrew Wiggins late. Wiggins, who had his moments throughout the game but didn't shoot it that well, asserted himself in the fourth quarter, getting to the rim and finishing on multiple occasions, and finally forcing the officials to make some calls in his favor. He finished with 24 points on 8-21 shooting while adding three steals, but was the key player down the stretch as the Wolves grabbed control of the game in the last few minutes.
Winning when you shoot 37% from the field and 4-21 from three is a bonus, but the Wolves played terrific defense in forcing the Heat into 22 turnovers while only committing eight themselves, won the offensive glass largely behind Towns, and benefitted from some atrocious free throw shooting by the Heat, who went 14-30 from the line.
Credit to the Wolves also for not letting Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade hurt them, as Wade did especially in Minneapolis. Those two combined for 20 points on 10-25 from the field, and it was a real team effort. Both Wiggins and Rubio had effective stints on Wade, while a combination of players kept tabs on Bosh.
Towns by the way deserves a mention as well; after looking overwhelmed early in the game due to Whiteside's presence and some early fouls, he rebounded to finish with 14 points on 6-12 from the field and 14 rebounds as he helped control the glass in the 2nd half. It was a gutsy performance by the rookie who didn't let his early struggles dictate his night.
I'll leave it there for now, with the Wolves in action again tomorrow against the Orlando Magic as they will try to get back to .500 on the season.
Ricky, it's nice to have you back.