Friday night at Target Center, Timberwolves fans got a glimpse of what could have been — and what could be.
They saw D’Angelo Russell, who jilted the Wolves in free agency, hit jumper after jumper on his way to 52 points.
But they also saw another sight they have wanted for the past few seasons — the potential rebirth of Andrew Wiggins.
It was Wiggins who put the team on his skinny shoulders and prevented the Wolves from an embarrassing loss to the depleted Warriors, in a 125-119 overtime victory.
“We’ve seen Wiggs building to what we imagine he could be and what we believe he could be,” forward Robert Covington said. “He just has so many good positive people around him that are pushing him, that believe in him, and that’s contagious.”
It was contagious enough for the Wolves to get by a Golden State team that is without injured stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Wiggins turned in his fourth consecutive strong performance, scoring 40 points on 17-for-33 shooting to go with seven assists, five rebounds and no turnovers. He made sure the Wolves overcame the absence of Jeff Teague (illness) and Shabazz Napier (right hamstring strain) for the second consecutive game by taking over ballhandling duties, especially down the stretch as the Wolves tried to keep pace with an on-fire Russell.
“It’s just exciting to watch,” Josh Okogie said. “He’s very talented and he works extremely hard, contrary to what a lot of people believe, and I’m just happy to see an outcome like that happen for him.”
Russell scored 14 points in the final five minutes — including a jumper in the eye of his friend Karl-Anthony Towns — to give Golden State a 110-106 lead with 29.8 seconds left. “We were trying to stop him,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “We didn’t do a very good job.”
But after Towns (20 points, 14 rebounds) hit two free throws, Covington forced and won a key jump ball with 14.4 seconds left. That led to Wiggins scoring the tying basket the way he found success all night — by attacking the rim.
“He basically played the point for most of the game,” Saunders said. “We were talking on the drive home from Memphis [on Wednesday] about the point guard position. He just said I need to learn the reads and I’ll be good.”
His comprehension was just fine. He tied the score at 110-110 with 5.6 seconds left. Russell missed the final shot of regulation, and in overtime Okogie (14 points) lent a helping hand by making hustle plays on both ends of the floor to build a small Wolves lead.
But after Russell’s three with 48.2 seconds remaining trimmed that lead to 120-119, it was Wiggins, who wasn’t available to the media after the game, who answered with a clinching three on the other end. His performance helped salvage an otherwise ugly game for the Wolves, who struggled again defensively.
“We believe in him,” Covington said. “Coaching staff believes in him. Organization believes in him. So now it’s like he’s starting to see it and he’s starting to feel it.”
The last week has been promising for the Wolves, long trying to unlock Wiggins’ potential — more promising than most weeks Wiggins has had the past three seasons, with Friday night being perhaps his best performance this season.
“We needed all 40 points,” Saunders said.