PHOENIX – Stumbling and bumbling while he pursued the bouncing ball, Timberwolves young star Andrew Wiggins eventually found his balance, his spot and his game-winning form. Wiggins’ 18-foot jumper at the buzzer gave his team its sixth victory in its past eight games, 112-111 over Phoenix on Tuesday night.
His jumper from the right side with seven-tenths of a second left lifted the Wolves to their third consecutive victory and gave Wiggins his first game-winning shot in three NBA seasons.
When the ball found net, Wiggins had scored 14 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, ending a game that careened from an early 14-point lead to an 11-point, second-quarter deficit. There were eight lead changes and eight tied scores.
“Well, somewhat,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if the final play unfolded just as he diagramed it. “The final part.”
In the end, Wiggins found redemption after he missed one of two free throws with 12.1 seconds left and Suns forward P.J. Tucker made both of his that earned his team a 111-110 lead with 6.3 seconds left.
After a timeout, Zach LaVine inbounded the ball from the left sideline to Ricky Rubio, who passed it to Wiggins. The first of three play options, Wiggins drove toward the right corner, fighting his way past Tucker — the Suns’ physical defensive specialist — toward that spot on the floor. He temporarily lost control of the ball after getting bumped, but he regained it, his composure and his footing.
“I was going to get there one way or the other,” Wiggins said. “I wasn’t going to let them stop me. My mind was made up when I got the ball. I got to my spot. That’s my shot.”
The shot fell, the buzzer sounded and his teammates rushed to mob him while the officials headed toward the scorer’s desk to assure themselves Wiggins delivered the shot in time.
“It was great,” Wiggins said about the mob scene. “It was all love.”
The Wolves continued the celebration into their locker room, where they rejoiced and posed for photos with visitor Tony LaRussa, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ executive who is good friends with Thibodeau.
“In the fourth quarter, you have to have the courage to take and make, and he does,” Thibodeau said. “So the more he does it, the more comfortable he’s going to get. We all have a lot of confidence in him.”
In mere seconds, Thibodeau went from rage over the foul call that sent Tucker to the free-throw line to furiously pumping his fist and barking out in joy.
“Yeah, normal game,” Thibodeau said dryly.
Or as Wiggins said afterward, “That’s Thibs for you. That’s Thibs for you.”
Tucker switched onto Wiggins after Karl-Anthony Towns set a pick to free Wiggins with the ball.
“He missed his footing, got his footing back, made a tough shot. Period,” Tucker said. “He made a better play. It happens. I’ve been around long enough to know we didn’t lose the game on the last shot.”
Until Thursday’s victory over the Clippers at Los Angeles, the Wolves hadn’t won a game decided by four points or fewer all season. They were 0-10 in such games until then.
Now they’ve won three consecutive games by three points or fewer for the first time in their history, and they changed a loss to a victory with a last-second shot for the first time since Kevin Garnett did so on March 25, 2007, vs. Portland.
Wiggins’ shot also helped him feel better about missing that free throw with 12.1 seconds left.
“That’s what I was thinking, too,” Wiggins said. “ ‘Dang, I miss a free throw. He made both of his. I got to redeem myself.’… It ended good. As long as we got the win, everything’s perfect.”