Timberwolves rookie Wes Johnson transported himself back in time and place Sunday evening and by doing so, he delivered not one but two game-saving defensive plays in a season that has so lacked such things.
Instead of Target Center on another cold winter's night in a long, long season, Johnson suggested he was a boy back home in Texas instead for the final 17 seconds of a 126-123 victory over Golden State, the Wolves' first victory at home in a month.
His team led by nine points in the first quarter, trailed by 14 points in the second quarter and led by 17 early in the fourth, but everything came down to those final 17 seconds.
That's when the Wolves led by a point, but the Warriors had the ball and a matchup they liked: star guard Monta Ellis dribbling down the clock out top while Johnson fidgeted and prepared for him to drive.
"I just looked at it as we're in the backyard one-and-one and I need a stop to win," he said. "So that's how I treated it."
Except this time, there was no asphalt, no wooden backboard and no silence. With the crowd screaming and his teammates behind him shouting instruction, Johnson shadowed Ellis' drive to basket and provided a blocked shot with 4.3 seconds left that led to two Anthony Tolliver free throws and a three-point cushion and ultimately to one final game-saving defensive play.
When Johnson and teammate Michael Beasley finally swarmed Warriors guard Steph Curry near the sideline and kept him from attempting a game-tying three-point shot at the buzzer, the Wolves at last had ended a seven-game losing streak.
They also won for the first time at Target Center since a Jan. 29 game against Toronto and discovered the type of defense that they had discussed in a lengthy team meeting before Saturday's practice because it has eluded them so often this season.
It probably didn't hurt that teammate Jonny Flynn joked with Johnson before Sunday's game and told Johnson that he'd have to step forth now defensively with Corey Brewer gone to the New York in last week's trade with the Knicks.
"Jonny said, 'You're the new Brew, you've really got to step up for us,' " Johnson said. "So I really took that into consideration."
Johnson provided 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocked shots while Kevin Love offered a 37-point, 23-rebound game and tied franchise records for free throws attempted (23) and made (18) in a game. Beasley scored 25 points, his most in nearly five weeks.
Curry made five threes and scored 33 points but couldn't get that final shot off after Johnson and Beasley swarmed around him. Ellis made seven of 19 shots -- a tough shooting night that convinced Johnson that Ellis would try to drive for the winning basket -- and scored 20 points. Four Warriors scored 20 or more points.
Ultimately, Johnson's defense overcame a Golden State offense that scored 41 points in the first quarter and 73 by halftime.
"He's the type of player who has all the attributes that go into a great defensive player," Love said. "He's tall. He's lengthy. He's a sparkplug kind of guy. He's high-energy, the type of guy who's only going to improve. And he's only a rookie. He's going to get better. If he wants to be, he can be a great defender in this league."