DENVER – The Timberwolves capped off Hockey Day in Minnesota on Saturday by winning a basketball game in Colorado, showing promise and resilience that almost nobody back home saw.
Pre-empted in their usual local television slot by hockey from morning to night, the Wolves won 113-105 over a Denver team that had won five of its past six games and is often unbeatable at home on the second night of back-to-back games at the city’s mile-high altitude.
The Wolves did it, winning twice in three games after they had lost 15 consecutive games before that.
This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.
Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.
“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”
Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”
“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”
Hummel offered up a career night as well, with highs in points (15), rebounds (13) and minutes (42-plus). Wolves coach Flip Saunders inserted him into the starting lineup Saturday both because his size better matched Nuggets starting small forward Wilson Chandler and because Saunders said he wanted Chase Budinger’s size and shooting off the bench.
Included in Hummel’s night were consecutive offensive rebound tip-ins midway through the fourth quarter, when the Wolves grabbed control of a game that almost careened from them. They led 39-25 seconds into the second quarter before trailing by nine points midway through the third quarter.
Trailing 93-92 with 6:35 left, Hummel’s consecutive tips sent the Wolves off on an 11-2 run from which the Nuggets never recovered.
The Wolves had their chances to fail, as they have done often in a 7-32 season. But they refused by overcoming a freak sequence when the Nuggets scored five points in a second — a missed four-point play opportunity they turned into a putback basket — to whack a 108-100 deficit to 108-105 with 1:41 left.
Center Gorgui Dieng provided two crucial banked-shot baskets. Thaddeus Young made two free throws. And Williams did, as he likes to say, what he does.
He delivered a jump shot that repelled Denver.
“It’s natural for me,” Williams said. “I said in preseason, I’m not afraid to miss those shots.”
He followed it with another jumper than pushed the lead back to seven points with 33.7 seconds left and that was that.
“No one put their head down,” Saunders said. “Two or three weeks ago, we would have done that. We reacted to pressure and we made shots.”
They reacted and won a game that only fans back home who subscribe to the NBA season package could see.
“Well, was it on TV at all?” Williams asked. “OK, was it on League Pass? Yes? All right, we cool.”