ATLANTA –Just when the Timberwolves had given it all away Monday night at Philips Arena, their future — consecutive No. 1 overall draft picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — turned to the present and took back a rollicking 117-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Leading by 34 points early in the third quarter, the Wolves trailed for the only time all night by a point with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left before Wiggins carried them victoriously, unequivocally to the finish at one end of the floor, and Towns did the same at the other.
Wiggins matched his career scoring high with a 33-point night that included seven consecutive points in a deciding, closing 11-0 run. While he did that offensively, Towns finished up his fourth double-double in six pro games with a 17-point, 12-rebound, three-block night that defensively included an important rebound and all three blocks within 37 seconds of each other when it mattered most late in the game.
The Wolves are 4-0 on the road after beating a Hawks team that had won seven consecutive games after losing to Detroit in its season opener.
Until Monday, the Wolves hadn't won in Atlanta since Nov. 20, 2002. Wiggins, Towns and Zach LaVine were 7 years old then.
Afterward, Towns glanced across a noisy locker room toward Wiggins’ empty stall and simply said about the night’s finish, “A superstar wanting to end the game on his terms, that’s what I saw.”
Moments earlier, Wolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell explained what it meant to have the two players who will lead this team into its future do it in the present Monday. He starts 30-something forwards Kevin Garnett and Tayshaun Prince and on Monday turned to 39-year-old point guard Andre Miller for five fourth-quarter minutes to “calm” a team he called “frazzled” after the Hawks thundered back from an 81-47 deficit.
Mitchell alternately called Wiggins’ performance “unbelievable” and “amazing” and praised Towns’ play as well.
“It’s important, it’s part of their development,” Mitchell said. “That’s how they learn. Karl didn’t shy away from contact or the ball, and Andrew was calling for the ball and wanted the ball. I think you saw in Andrew for the first time some emotion.”
Towns reared back and roared after he rejected a shot, the kind of expression Wolves fans already have come to expect from him just two weeks into his NBA career.
“He gets hyper over everything,” Wiggins said, smiling. “We feed off that. That’s positive momentum for us.”
Wiggins did some of the same after calling for the ball and then delivering when his teammates got him it, starting his own personal 7-0 run with a three-point play and ending it with a chance at the another that he failed to convert.
“He’s growing up,” said teammate Ricky Rubio, who figuratively provided Wiggins, Towns and the team an assist with his two-way play down the stretch. “He doesn’t want to lose this game. I think he learned his lesson last year, only winning 16 games. Even though he was Rookie of the Year, he wasn’t satisfied this year. He’s learning to get after guys and win it for us.”
Wiggins scored 31 points in Saturday’s overtime victory in Chicago, in which the Wolves outscored the Bulls 9-0 in the overtime. He topped that by two points Monday when the Wolves outscored Atlanta 11-0 in the final 3:10.
The Wolves flew home late Monday night to play Charlotte Tuesday at Target Center as one of only three NBA teams still undefeated away from home. The Hawks and Golden State are the other two teams.
“That means a lot,” Wiggins said of that 4-0 road record. “It tells you we’re playing aggressive. We’re focused in. We want to win. We want to surprise people who think we aren’t going to do anything this year.”