There were 29.5 seconds left in a tie game with Toronto on Wednesday when Lance Stephenson inbounded the ball to Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones.
Jones dribbled toward the top of the key, then passed to Andrew Wiggins, who was guarded by DeMarre Carroll. Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas came to help as Wiggins dribbled toward the corner. Then DeMar DeRozan came from the baseline to help as Wiggins turned the corner. Wiggins, in traffic, rose up and ….
Instead he passed back to the top of the key to a wide-open Jones, whose three-pointer put the Timberwolves ahead for good in the 112-109 victory.
“Wigs trusted me, making the pass,’’ Jones said.
Or, perhaps, Wiggins is, more and more, trusting himself to make the right play.
Wiggins is, and likely will continue to be, the Wolves go-to guy at crunch time. Coach Tom Thibodeau likes the ball in Wiggins’ hands in those situations. And he had success there. He hit the game-winning jumper as time expired in Minnesota’s victory in Phoenix on Jan. 24. Six days later his late jumper tied the score and forced overtime in the Wolves’ victory over Orlando.
But Wiggins also missed two jumpers late in a loss to Miami on Monday, including a contested jumper at the buzzer that would have tied the score. It was interesting, then, that just two days later, in a similar situation, surrounded by defenders — by the time Wiggins jumped, four of five Raptors defenders were on his side of the court — he passed the ball.
Wiggins finished the victory over the Raptors with 31 points on 11-for-19 shooting. He made eight of nine free throws, had five rebounds, two steals, a block.
And he had six assists. That total is tied for his highest this season. He’s had six assists three times, and the Wolves are 3-0 in those games.
“I thought it was a great play,’’ Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It was the right play. And to trust the pass is critical. Then Tyus having the courage to take and make. He put a lot of work into his game.’’
So, clearly, has Wiggins, who has had two games with five or more assists in his past three starts.
Wiggins said he didn’t know whether he was going to pass or shoot until just before jumping.
“Once I turned the corner I was gonna attack,’’ he said. “And I saw, like, three Raptors right in front of me. And then I went, ‘Ohh.’ I just jumped in the air to see who was open and I saw Tyus.’’
The group Thibodeau used down the stretch — Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jones, Shabazz Muhammad and Stephenson — was relatively small. But having five legitimate scoring threats on the floor provided good spacing for Towns (who scored eight fourth-quarter points), Muhammad (11) and Wiggins (seven).
And it gave Wiggins options, though he said Jones was his first option. Thibodeau said, depending on who the opponent has on the floor, you could see more of this lineup going forward.
As for Wiggins, Thibodueau said Wiggins has grown as a playmaker, but has to do more.He will get the opportunity.
“Primary scorers, they have that responsibility,’’ he said. “The ball is in their hands for a reason. So if they have one-on-one coverage, and they can get to their spot, you want them to shoot. When the second defender comes, he has to make the right decision. We don’t want him to take a tough shot that’s off-balance with two or three guys hanging on him, when you have a guy who can knock down a spot-up shot. It’s playing smart.’’