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Wolves 115, Raptors 109: Digging Deep

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The short-handed Wolves bring down a strong Raptors team with a little help from the bench.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Minneapolis — Coming into tonight, the Toronto Raptors were ranked fourth in the league when it comes to both offensive and defensive rating. They’re a team that’s built their success around two marquee players and a strong supporting cast of up-and-comers. Toronto is a sneaky young team with guys like OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it by the way they play together on the floor.

With Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford both out tonight, the Wolves were lacking two of their most reliable scorers. This made way for decent minutes from players like Nemanja Bjelica, Marcus Georges-Hunt and even Shabazz Muhammad.

Starting in place for Butler, Bjelica got off to a really quick start, scoring a couple quick buckets and forcing a couple steals within the first handful of possessions during the game.

Kyle Lowry led Toronto to an early lead, putting up 12 quick first-quarter points, but the Wolves climbed back into contention to end the quarter with a lineup consisting of just one starter (Taj Gibson). This game saw Thibs throwing out a few unique lineups that we haven’t seen much of this season, obviously due to the absence of Butler and Crawford.

The refs made some questionable calls on both ends all night, although the foul differential shifted in the Wolves’ favor in the second half. Karl-Anthony Towns picked up his third foul early on in the second quarter, limiting him to just eight minutes total in the first half and leaving the majority of the scoring load on Andrew Wiggins’ shoulders. Wiggins finished the first half with 22 points on 9-13 from the field and 4-4 from the line, before KAT and Taj Gibson picked up some of the scoring slack later in the game.

The Raptors came out rolling to start the second half with Lowry at the helm. In a league so heavily dominated by star point guards, it’s easy to forget about someone like Lowry. But he does everything well and still somehow seems to fall slightly under the radar. He shoots well, he’s a tough defender and he does a good job of getting his teammates involved. And he’s particularly good at those fall-to-the-floor finishes at the rim. Overall Lowry gave Jeff Teague a tough time, who struggled on both ends of the floor all night.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Midway through the third quarter, the Wolves started clicking and went off on an 11-0 run, capped by a Towns three that marked the Wolves’ first lead since the early minutes of the game.

From there it was a flurry of back-and-forth possessions. Taj Gibson and Towns started making an impact on the offensive end, while Wiggins started to cool down. Meanwhile Lowry continued going off, making everything happen for Toronto with his dribble penetration and shot-creation. He finished with 40 points, five rebounds and five assists -- all while going 6-10 from deep.

Toward the end of the game, the Raptors went on their own 11-0 run to take back the lead, but, believe it or not, the Wolves fought back to reclaim it with the help of a pair of big shots from Wiggins and Towns.

In the waning minutes of the game, MGH hit one of two free throws to put the Wolves up 111-108. Wiggins then came up with a clutch defensive rebound followed immediately by another clutch board on the offensive end, which ultimately led to two more MGH free throws. MGH then came up with a big play on the other end, drawing a charge on DeRozan, which essentially sealed the deal.

It’s clear that MGH is on the cusp of becoming a special player for this team. He has the tools and the basketball IQ and the effort to contribute in a big way night in and night out on top of the fact that he takes advantage of the minutes he’s given. But what’s especially promising coming out of this one is that the Wolves were able to pull through despite giving a late-game lead back to a very tough Toronto team.

Stray Observations

  • There were almost as many Raptors fans at Target Center as there were Skol chants, which were bountiful.
  • His late minute heroics aside, MGH had a great game all around, despite going 3-10 from the field. He has some great off-ball defensive instincts and he’s a sticky on-ball defender to boot.
  • Thibs on MGH after the game: “One of the reasons we kept him is because we felt we needed toughness, and he has that. Wing-type players get better every year, and he’s done that. I think his offensive game is growing, but the defensive part he has and the toughness he has, and we need that.”
  • More from Thibs: “If you’re in this league, you’re a great player. So when someone’s out, it’s an opportunity for someone else to step in. And as long as we play hard, we feel like we’re gonna have a chance to win every night.”
  • Thibs on Butler’s knee soreness: “He had soreness, so he didn’t go through shootaround this morning. We were hoping it would get better. He doesn’t recall if it happened in a game or if it’s just sore, so we decided the best thing to do was to just take a break.”