MINNEAPOLIS — Andrew Wiggins had scored only four points heading into halftime on Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls, who were playing without Jimmy Butler after the All-Star guard strained his left knee the night before in Denver.
In the third, Wiggins started turning things around; he scored seven points in the quarter and appeared to be more engaged in the game. He clearly saved his best for last.
Wiggins was the clutch scorer the Wolves need him to be if they want to take the next step in the rugged Western Conference; he showed ice in his veins during crunch time when the team needed buckets. With 1:39 remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter, Pau Gasol missed a 6-foot jumper and Gorgui Dieng corralled the rebound — keeping Minnesota down only one point, 105-104.
The ball was unquestionably going to Wiggins on the next possession, he had the obvious matchup advantage against the much smaller E'Twaun Moore (starting in place of Butler), and he responded by nailing the 9-foot jumper to give the Wolves the lead. I couldn't believe Chicago didn't bring the double on him. Watching up close, Rose and Pau were visibly thinking about coming over to get the ball out of Wiggins' hands, but neither of them actually did and the result was not that surprising. It's too easy for Wiggins to rise up over the 6'4" Moore, and the sequence lit a fire underneath the Wolves second year wing that carried the team over the next few possessions.
"I don't think it was a lack of following the game plan," first year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg said afterwards. "They went to Wiggins. We had a smaller guy on him. Obviously Jimmy (Butler) is missed in those types of situations, guarding the bigger wing like that. They did a good job of getting him the ball."
After Moore missed a 25-foot three pointer, Wiggins came back with a crucial layup (assisted by Dieng), which pushed the score to 108-105. Hoiberg called the 20 second timeout to draw up a play to get Chicago a good look for the tie, and the shot looked good from my vantage point, but Gasol's 25-foot attempt fell short.
Ricky Rubio grabbed the defensive rebound, and the "Maple Murker" (h/t Zach Harper) showed up again to put the game on ice (his 17-foot jumper put the Wolves up 110-105).
Gasol missed another crucial 3-pointer after the Bulls came out of another timeout, and Dieng sealed the deal with an uncontested slam in transition (via Rubio).
"I’m confident in my shot, even when they don’t fall," said Wiggins. "I can get air balls and still shoot the next shot the same, especially down the stretch. My team trusts me to make big plays and that’s what I’m trying to do."
Trailing by five with 2:30 to play, the Wolves closed the game on a 12-0 run in front of an electric (and rare) home crowd. "He has talent and he took the game at the end," Rubio said when asked about Wiggins' performance in crunch time. "I know it's tough for a young guy like him, but we want that every night. It's asking a lot, but he has the talent to do it."
While Wiggins scored the final six points of the run, the reason the Wolves were in position to close the game out was due to the incredible performances by Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng. Towns finished with 26 points, 17 rebounds (tying his season-high), and three emphatic blocks. It was his third 25 point, 15 rebound game of his rookie season (!!!).
Meanwhile, Dieng finished with a career-high 24 points, 13 rebounds, and a season-high seven assists (more than Rubio on the night!). It was his first career 20/10/5 game and the second by a Wolves player this season (Wiggins vs. Sacramento, Dec. 18). Tonight was Dieng's eighth double-double (fourth in his last five games) and third 20 point, 10 rebound performance.
"They did great," Wiggins said, when asked what it means to get 50 points and 30 rebounds from the teams starting power forward and center. "They're the reason we won the game. They got the boards under control. KAT held down the paint, Gorgui almost had a triple-double. They did good for us."
Sam Mitchell on Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng combining for 50 points, 30 rebounds, eight assists, and four blocks:
"You can tell [Towns] had a lot of energy tonight - 26 points and 17 rebounds, that block on McDermott down the stretch. I thought McDermott had the layup and Karl came from nowhere. I think Karl and [Gorgui] together, 50 points and 30 rebounds, those two guys are just... they play so well together. Gorgui is passing the ball, he's scoring, he's rebounding, he's anchoring our defense and he's teaching Karl along the way and it allows Karl to make some mistakes defensively that don't really hurt us because Gorgui is behind him. I thought Andrew [Wiggins] down the stretch in the second half woke up and Ricky [Rubio] just controlled the game and ran the show. We just got stops. The last five minutes of the game, we went down five and we just got stop after stop, we executed and scored."
"Those two are playing so well together. We're just at the point of the season where you've got to bring positive minutes to the floor. Not scoring, not necessarily one aspect of the game, but you've got to do a little bit of everything. Gorgui and Karl are making it hard for other guys to play because I look out there and I'm thinking about giving them (a break) - they're not tired, they play hard, they work hard. This is not the first time, I think they had a game earlier, a few weeks ago where they had over 50 points and 30-40 rebounds or some ridiculous amount. Those two together, they just work hard together, they tease each other all the time, they're turning into best buds and they just play so well together and cover up for each other so much."
Rubio on Dieng and Towns' growing chemistry:
"Both can do a lot of things. Both can shoot, so they stretch the floor. It's good to play with five guys who can shoot the ball at the same time, the paint is more open. Both are building a chemistry together, which is what we need from the bigs, because bigs have got to help on the pick and roll and the other big has to help the helper. It's something that takes time, but I think they're finding their chemistry together and you see how it works."
How about this for a Shabazz share:
LaVine looked at the Wolves bench like, "YOU GUYS LIKE THAT SHIT!?" ... wait until the dunk contest— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) February 7, 2016
- Towns played a season-high 40:52 tonight, including 19:11 in the second half. Tonight was Towns' 28th double-double and 14th 20p/10r game, matching the club rookie record for 20p/10r performances in a single season (Laettner, 1992-93). He needs one more double-double to match Kevin Love's franchise rookie record (29, 2008-09).
- After tonight's game, Towns is averaging 16.7 ppg and 10.1 rebounds per game. Only five rookies since the 1992-93 season have accomplished the feat over a full season: Blake Griffin (2010-11), Elton Brand (1999-00), Tim Duncan (1997-98), Alonzo Mourning (1992-93) and Shaq (1992-93).
- Make that 16 wins now, matching last season's total. Dieng played all 24 minutes in the second half, finishing with a game-high and season-high 41:29 minutes played. He tallied 14 points and nine rebounds in the second half alone.
- Andrew Wiggins scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth on 4-6 shooting. It was his 29th 20+ point performance of the season and 12th in the last 16 games.
- Minnesota finished with three players with 20+ points, the fifth time this season they've accomplished the feat. All five games have come within the last month (Jan. 8, 12, 25, 27, Feb. 6).
- Tonight was Minnesota's third straight game shooting above 50%, their longest streak since three consecutive games in March 2013. The club record is five in a row, set in January 2000.
- Nemanja Bjelica received the DNP-CD, along with Kevin Martin, Tyus Jones, and Adreian Payne. Mitchell's rotation was excellent on the night, but if we're nitpicking I'd love to see Damjan Rudez's minutes (13:39) go to Bjelica instead. It was nice to see Zach LaVine (13 points on 16 shots in 35 minutes) play almost exclusively off ball next to Rubio or Andre Miller (16 minutes off the bench). I highly doubt we're going to start seeing KAT and Dieng get 40+ minutes every night, but that kind of playing time was totally warranted in this game. Mitchell simply isn't comfortable with any of the other big besides Towns, Dieng, and Garnett at this point (KG remains out with a sore right knee/he's played more than 50,000 minutes so every part of his body probably doesn't feel great at this point).
- Derrick Rose finished with 18 points and 10 assists tonight, his first double-double of the season.
- After missing last night's game with a sprained left hand, Pau Gasol finished with 25 points (8-16) and eight rebounds.
- E'Twaun Moore finished with 17 points and seven assists. He entered the night averaging 5.7 points and 1.0 assists per game.