It’s funny how much a 30-foot, buzzer-beating, banked-in shot can change the narrative.
Had Wolves guard Andrew Wiggins’ last-second shot Sunday in Oklahoma City not found the net, people would be talking about how the Wolves had let another second-half, double-figure lead slip away.
But that is so last season.
Fact is, the shot fell. For the second consecutive game the Wolves led by 10 or more late, found themselves down a point even later, but found a way to win. Friday it was Jamal Crawford’s three off a pick-and-pop that put Minnesota up for good against Utah in the home opener. Sunday it was Wiggins who banked it home after Oklahoma City’s Carmelo Anthony had calmly hit a three-pointer of his own, putting the Thunder up a point with 4.7 seconds left.
Good fortune? Yes. But the 2-1 Wolves, at the very least, have shown some poise at crunch time in two consecutive victories. For a team featuring three new starters still trying to find the perfect chemistry, this is a step.
Especially a team that had 22 games last season where it led by double digits, but ended up losing.
“Winning isn’t easy in this league,’’ Wiggins said. “But, one step at a time, we’re getting better. Every game we’re getting better.”
Instead of focusing on how the Wolves let leads slip away, perhaps the focus should be on how the team responded once those leads were gone.
Sunday the Wolves led by 13 after three quarters. But with Minnesota struggling on offense early in the fourth and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook shifting into full beast mode, that lead was down to three with 8½ left as the home crowd roared.
But the Wolves showed poise.
Jeff Teague, who had his best game so far this season, scored six fourth-quarter points, getting four consecutive free throws, the final two with 3:24 left.
Down the stretch the Wolves kept running their offense.
• After Steven Adams’ three-point play had pulled the Thunder within a point, Wiggins scored on a driving layup with 1:43 left.
• Westbrook scored on a driving layup with 51 seconds left to pull the Thunder within two, but Wiggins flew in to jam home the rebound of Taj Gibson’s miss.
• After Westbrook tied the score with a three-pointer with 30 seconds left, Towns scored on a 9-foot floater.
And of course, everyone is talking about how the Wolves responded to Anthony’s go-ahead three with 4.7 seconds left. With no timeouts, Gibson managed to get the ball to Wiggins, who took advantage of a screen by Towns before hitting the game-winner.
The NBA’s Last Two Minute Report showed the Wolves got two breaks. After Anthony’s shot, coach Tom Thibodeau signaled timeout behind the back of an official, then immediately waved his players up the court before the referee noticed. Also, the report noted that Towns’ screen on Paul George was illegal and should have been whistled because the stance was wide and there was contact to the leg area.
And ... Wiggins’ shot was a fortunate one. But it was calmly executed. Bottom line, the Wolves didn’t crumble in the face of the Thunder’s onslaught.
“That’s one of the things we talk about,’’ Thibodeau said. “At the end of a game, there is a lot that happens. Whatever the circumstances are, you have to find a way to win. The last two [games] we did that. Opening night in San Antonio we didn’t. The main thing for us is to concentrate on improvement.”
Sunday the Wolves showed signs of what this lineup can be. Teague ran the show well, keeping the Wolves’ tempo up, scoring 19 points with nine assists and six rebounds. Towns and Wiggins each scored 27. Towns and Gibson both had point-rebound double-doubles. Jimmy Butler had 15 points, six assists and six rebounds.
“We’re learning,’’ Gibson said. “We’re growing, starting to get comfortable with each other, the veterans and the young guys. Our defense is getting better, we’re rebounding well.’’
And while the Thunder is also in the process of learning to play with new key starters, it is a good team, one that had won 14 of the past 15 games vs. Minnesota at home.
“We have experience and veterans now,’’ Towns said. “And we are learning ways to win.”