I was all ready to re-write another edition of this year’s traditional game story about halfway through the third quarter, right when the Charlotte Hornets went on a 17-4 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 72-57 with 4:55 left in the quarter. Another miserable effort on defense, another night of shots not falling, another sad loss for the 2016-17 Minnesota Timberwolves.
But then, the Wolves put the two good pieces of their two previous games against the New York Knicks together in the same game: the bench showed up and dragged them back into the game, scoring 10 straight points to tie the game at the start of the fourth quarter. Then, the defensive effort amped up, Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins drained clutch late threes (wait, WHAT??!), and the Wolves got to overtime.
The Wolves scored the first seven points of the overtime period, including a ferocious putback dunk by Karl-Anthony Towns, and never trailed despite ridiculous shots by Marco Belinelli and Nicolas Batum, coming away with an absurd, unbelievable, and wonderfully strange 125-120 win in overtime. Yes, really.
There are so many things in this game. The first half seemed like another doomed effort on the road, as stated above. All the signs of the Wolves’ bad habits of the early season were there, and the Hornets quickly opened up a thirteen point lead. But, the Wolves stabilized the deficit at around ten, and slowly, slowly chipped away for the rest of the half, somehow only trailing by three at halftime.
The third quarter run was predictable. The early fourth-quarter run that made the late heroics possible was unexpected. The bucket that tied the game for the first time since 0-0? A Kris Dunn three, only the fifth of his young NBA career. For the bench tonight: 12 points for Nemanja Bjelica and Shabazz Muhammad, 8 for Dunn, and 4 plus eight big rebounds for Cole Aldrich, who was excellent on defense throughout.
The game looked over, again and again. A Frank Kaminsky III three that pushed the Hornets’ lead back to 9 with 5:13 left, countered immediately by a three from Wiggins. A step on the sideline from Wiggins, followed by another Kaminsky three to push the deficit to 7 with 1:26 left. The final three buckets of regulation for Minnesota? Threes from LaVine, Rubio, and finally Wiggins to tie the game with 8.9 left after a Kemba Walker floater. Good defense on the last possession, and the Wolves had a whole new game to play (and win).
This was a stolen game at its finest. The Wolves played mediocre to bad basketball for long stretches, but finally executed down the stretch and in overtime when given the opportunity to take the game. While none of the large-scale problems felt fixed, the emotional impact of finally getting some bounces and shots to go their way could go so far after the rough, rough start to this season. What a night, what a win.
- Wiggins: 29 points, two huge threes, four assists, three steals, and 5/5 from the line, including two big ones to finish the game off. The assists were a nice addition, and if he can continue to develop his vision and passing, it opens so many doors for the Wolves offense, which is not exactly news.
- Towns: 27 points and 15 boards. There are still questions around his defense, even with moments of greatness mixed in. Kaminsky’s 21 points were a problem both early and late, and the impact that many expect from him just isn’t there yet. However, his rebounding and presence in overtime were so huge, and to leave him out of the credit for the eventual close of the game would be completely incorrect.
- A weird fact from this season: the Wolves are now 3-1 on the second night of a back-to-back. Nothing about this makes sense.
- Ricky Rubio also deserves some credit for his late-game heroics. Rubio’s had a rough start to open the season, but he had a couple huge shots, finally, and absolutely locked Kemba Walker down on the final possession of regulation. 9 points, 7 boards and 12 assists for one of Rubio’s better nights of the season, finally.
- Winning is good for the soul. One hopes that a big result like tonight could spark a run of better play from the Wolves. Their next run of games will be a big challenge, and entering this stretch in a better mental state (for both the team AND the fanbase) should be really, really good.