With one minute to go, the Wolves were holding onto a three point lead against the Thunder and the human supernova that is Russell Westbrook. Westbrook drove in and got a bucket, bringing the lead to one. On the other end, Taj Gibson missed a 20-footer and Andrew Wiggins skied in to tip the basketball in.
Westbrook, continuing his rampage, hit a deep three-pointer. The Wolves called timeout, which was their last, and gave the ball to Wiggins as they had been doing for the last few minutes. Wiggins drove, kicked it to Jimmy Butler, who drove and kicked it to Karl-Anthony Towns, who drove in and hit a tough runner that rolled around the rim and in.
With eight seconds left, the Thunder called their final timeout. Upon in-bounding the basketball to Westbrook, he drove in and kicked it out to an open Carmelo Anthony who promptly drained a three-pointer to give the Thunder a one-point lead. The Wolves, without any timeouts, scrambled to get the ball in. Taj Gibson passed it to Wiggins who sprinted up the court while Towns ran over and nailed Paul George with a blistering screen.
Wiggins rose up just in front of the Thunder logo and shot. The crowd, aghast as their celebration was immediately cut short, watched as Wiggins shot banks off the glass and drops in.
The newly minted 150 million dollar man capped his 27 point, 7 rebound, 4 assists, and 2 steals performance with one of the biggest shots of his young career.
Throughout the game, the idea I had in mind for this recap was on teams coming together. The Wolves and the Thunder both made major adjustments to their rosters, with the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder and the Wolves trading for Butler and signing Gibson, Jeff Teague, and Jamal Crawford.
But really, while things may have drastically changed for both teams, some core values seem to remain the same.
For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was patient all game, choosing his spots and trying to focus more on facilitating. He finished with 31 points and 10 assists, and while he led the team with 24 shots, most of those came in the fourth quarter. Of course, he would sometimes jet ahead on the fast break or attack Towns in the pick and roll, but he was deferring to his new teammates until the last half of the fourth quarter.
Then, once it was Westbrook time, the fire inside ignited and he made tough shot after tough shot, keeping the Thunder within striking distance. He ended up scoring 15 of their last 21 points.
For the Wolves, many of us thought that the addition of Jimmy Butler would relegate Wiggins to a “third-banana” role. The ideas was that the diminished responsibility on offense and defense would do wonders for Wiggins, as he would not have to guard the toughest Wing assignment every night and Butler would take over offensive-creation duties.
However, due to the Thunder’s plethora of stars, Wiggins spent his evening guarding Paul George. Then in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wolves let Wiggins lead at the end of the game, leaving him to create in isolation or in the pick-and-roll. Point Wiggins, it seems, was not a brief experiment or a relic of bygone days.
However, this time, Wiggins succeeded. He made several difficult plays and, outside of the turnaround jumper he air balled, was simply spectacular in the fourth quarter.
Wiggins finished with 27 points tonight, but easily could have surpassed 30 if a few more of his seven three-pointers went in. Now that Butler is around, Wiggins is going to have as many wide-open threes as he wants to take this year. Last year, Wiggins averaged 3.5 three-point attempts a game. This year, in three games, he is taking 6.3.
But that is enough about the star of the show. There were quite a few other important notes from this game.
- Jeff Teague had his first good game as a Timberwolf and he certainly made quite a showing. He scored 19 points off a combination of getting to the line and floaters over the outstretched hands of the Thunder’s big men. Teague also had nine assists and six rebounds. He was aggressive early on in the game and worked himself into a rhythm. It is likely a relief for Teague that he was able to get over this hump and now can try to build off this momentum.
- Butler, as aforementioned, seems to be sliding into a facilitator role for the Wolves. He finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, but picked his spots on offense and did not force much. He also was guarding Russell Westbrook all night, which certainly is enough to deal with for one game.
- Karl-Anthony Towns had a fine game from a numerical perspective, which is crazy to say that he had a “poor” game when he finished with 27 points and 12 boards, but he is forcing things thus far. He had a hard time connecting on his threes (finished two of seven) and really struggled to keep Steven Adams off the offensive glass. Last year, Towns had a rough start to the year where it really seemed like he was trying to do too much. Hopefully, he settles in soon with this new squad.
- Gibson had a strong game. He grabbed 10 boards and scored 11 points, most of which were made in the first quarter. He did have an odd tendency of having hands of sticky glue on the defensive boards, yet was unable to handle a few tough passes on offense that turned into turnovers as the ball dribbled between his legs.
- The bench was, well, let’s just say not great. They all had a hard time scoring and got absolutely roasted in the first half. Jamal Crawford hit one big three, but that is all he made on six shots and he played some abject defense. I’m not sure Shabazz Muhammad did anything in his 8 minutes and Tyus Jones was mostly just out there while Wiggins handled the rock.
I felt bad for Gorgui Dieng here. He was the only bench player to end up with a non-negative plus-minus and his quick passes helped spark a small run in the first quarter. However, due to the matchups, he spent a lot of time guarding Carmelo Anthony with the bench crew. That is not a matchup that is in G’s favor and he had a tough time containing Anthony. Melo, truly, roasted everybody that was guarding him not named Taj Gibson.
Overall, this game was an absolute blast to watch. The Wolves offense was so much smoother than it has been in the first two games and the ball movement is really starting to happen. Butler, in particular, has been making some amazing passes and the Wolves are going to start connecting soon on all of these open threes. The interior defense was still a problem and Towns is getting attacked in the pick-and-roll.
But this is a moment to celebrate. The Wolves held onto a win on the road against a team that is chock-full of talent. This was an amazing win, punctuated with an incredible buzzer-beater from one of the Wolves’ rising stars, Andrew Wiggins.