When this game was moved to TNT, it was a nice afterthought. The Minnesota Timberwolves rarely play on national television, and while their young core remains a fascinating story, not a single soul around the NBA seriously thought that they would be much of a speed bump on the Golden State Warriors' journey to their seventieth win of the season. Sure, the Wolves have played the Warriors tough in their meeting two weeks ago, but this was in their fortress, Oracle Arena, where they had lost only once this season.
It looked like they would be run out of the building early. The starters were low on energy, and after grabbing a quick 8-7 lead, the Warriors went on one of their trademark runs, opening up a rapid fifteen point lead at 27-12. The Warriors, entering this game, had won 114 straight games when they had taken a fifteen point lead at any point in the game. The Timberwolves have shown few signs of life in games where their starters have minimal impact, leaving the burden on their bench to remedy this deficit.
Enter Shabazz Muhammad, who has endured a long season of struggling to make a major impact. Bazz almost singlehandedly carried the Wolves back into this game, scoring 11 points to turn that deficit of 15 to a mere four halfway through the second quarter. He was aggressive, looking to get to the basket at every opportunity. While the Wolves eventually sagged back to a nine point deficit at the half, the game could have been well out of hand had that bench scoring not pulled them through.
The third quarter brought more of the same struggle: the Warriors' lead ballooned back up to 17 halfway through. Stephen Curry had been held almost scoreless and was well defended throughout, but had been distributing the ball to great effect and had 13 assists at 5:27 in the quarter. Again, it seemed over, and again Bazz dragged the Wolves back in. He had another 12 points in the third, and the Warriors' lead was only eight.
Then, it all started to come together. Zach LaVine's outside jumper began to click. Tyus Jones aggressively drove to the basket and distributed smartly. Andrew Wiggins attacked the hoop and got to the free throw line. Shabazz knocked down a 3, and at 6:39 in the fourth, the Wolves had tied the game up at 94. Shabazz was in such a zone that the Warriors were forced to use Draymond Green to defend him, leaving more room for Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns to work on offense.
All this time, the question had to be on the defensive end. Curry had awoken during the third quarter. Klay Thompson could get open shots from LaVine whenever he needed to. Andrew Bogut was feasting on offensive rebounds. The key for the Wolves was finding turnovers, of which Golden State had 24. Wiggins and Towns defended smartly, and Towns showed just how frightening he can be, shutting down both Green and Curry in one-on-one situations in pressure situations late in the game and forcing bad, missed shots.
It could have been over when Towns drove to the hoop, laid the ball in, and was set to go to the free throw line with an opportunity to tie the game at 106 and under a minute left, right up until the blocking foul assessed to Curry was changed upon replay review to a charge and the Warriors were given possession and kept their three point lead, a call that was widely ridiculed on social media. Instead, a steal by Wiggins led to a free throw from Muhammad, a turnover by Green led to a patented Wiggins spin move to tie the game, and the Wolves had made it to overtime.
Take a step back for a minute. The Golden State Warriors entered this game 69-8, and had the opportunity to be the second team in NBA history to win 70 games in a regular season. They had Bogut and Andre Iguodala back from injury, even if they were not at full strength. They were playing at home. The Timberwolves have struggled all season to come back from large deficits, and their perimeter defense has not exactly been the stuff of legend. Their starters had gifted Golden State a double digit lead. And here they were, ready to start overtime. This was unbelievable.
Overtime began with another Golden State turnover. Then another powerful move from Wiggins, and the Wolves led for the first time in 40 minutes. A jumper from Wiggins, and the lead was four. Unstoppable moves from Towns, and Draymond Green sat on the bench with his sixth foul. Aggressive, strong rebounds by Wiggins, and the Wolves were shooting free throws. One last missed three by Curry, and it was over. The unthinkable, the impossible, the incredible, it happened. Final score: Minnesota 124, Golden State 117.
There have been incredible performances throughout the season. Karl-Anthony Towns does unbelievable things almost every night. Andrew Wiggins continues to develop as a scoring threat. There have been great team wins, in Atlanta, in Oklahoma City. This was the complete package. This was these young Wolves going toe-to-toe with the defending champions, having one of the best seasons in NBA history, and beating them in their house on national television. This was a game, as a fan, to yell and scream and jump for joy because it just feels good to do.
- As you may have gleaned from above, this was the best game of Shabazz Muhammad's career. He finished with 35 points, snapping his career high of 30, to go with six rebounds, but it wasn't just the numbers. He came in with the Wolves struggling and hauled them back into the game, twice, and played key minutes late in the fourth and in overtime to ice the win. Sometimes single-game plus-minus can be illuminating: Shabazz was +29 in this game.
- While Bazz dragged the Wolves back in, Andrew Wiggins took them to the win in crunch time. He tied the game late in the fourth, scored the first four points of overtime, and was everywhere throughout the extra period. Wiggins had 32 points, five boards, four assists, and a whopping six steals on the night. Both he and Zach LaVine stepped up tremendously on defense late in the game (LaVine had four steals of his own, a couple at critical moments in the game).
- Towns... what superlatives are left for his rookie season at this point? 20 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks. Lockdown defense in two key possessions on two vastly different players in Curry and Green. Key baskets in overtime. He defies belief.
- While Shabazz carried the scoring load, massive credit also to the rest of the lineup that stabilized alongside him, including Tyus Jones' seven points and five assists and Nemanja Bjelica's little bit of everything: two points, three boards, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Bjelica had a nice impact on defense, and while his trademark passing up of open looks at three is still there, his return to having a positive impact on the team is very reassuring towards his development
- Sometimes big landmarks can be the most meaningful takeaway from a game. The Warriors' streak of 114 wins with a lead of fifteen or more? Snapped. The Wolves had not won a single game in the month of April in two seasons. That's done too. Sometimes, however, it's the littlest things that are the sweetest. The Wolves won their 26th game of the season tonight. They officially hit the over.