Before his team lost its 15th consecutive game to start this season, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown recounted all the games his 76ers might have won and named the superstars who each “did his thing” by beating them come winning time, a list that includes Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade.
And now after just 96 games into his career, is it too early to add Timberwolves young star Andrew Wiggins to such a group after Monday’s 100-95 victory, his team’s first at Target Center this season after an 0-6 start there?
His Wolves trailing by six points with fewer than five minutes left, Wiggins scored 15 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, including 11 of them in a late 18-5 run that won the game.
“Yeah, I hope so,” Wiggins said when asked if he can become the same kind of player whose name Brown ticked off earlier in the day. “Those are some of the greats. I still have a long way to go before being like them. But I’m going to work towards that and hopefully my coaches and teammates just trust me in that position.”
He might not be all that far off.
Monday’s game was his third 30-point performance in this young season and the seventh of his career. He has scored at least 20 points in his past six games and has led the Wolves in scoring eight of the past nine games, averaging 25.4 points in that time.
Trailing 52-46 at halftime to an opponent that hasn’t won since March 25 last season, Wolves veteran Kevin Garnett turned back the calendar by scoring six unanswered points in 63 seconds, a contribution both Wiggins and interim coach Sam Mitchell deemed inspirational.
“He can’t do it for 25 minutes every night,” Mitchell said. “But for 17 minutes tonight, KG was great.”
A quarter later, Wiggins himself took his team home, carrying it with his scoring and playmaking that including an assist when he found Kevin Martin open for a timely three-pointer that gave the Wolves a 96-91 lead with 28 seconds left.
“The thing I respect and love about Andrew is he’s not just scoring,” Mitchell said.
Moved into the starting lineup Monday for the first time this season with the Wolves in search of more scoring, Martin hadn’t made a three-pointer all night — and only one in five games before that — until providing Monday’s dagger.
“I think the basketball world knows I needed that to go in,” Martin said.
That world also might have sensed the Wolves needed a victory over the 76ers, especially after Philadelphia came to Target Center at 0-17 last season and avoided tying an NBA record for worst start by beating the Wolves.
“I didn’t want to lose,” Wiggins said.
Afterward, Martin called Wiggins a “special player” who can has “the talent and the skill set to take over a game like he did.” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said Wiggins has “all the tools to become MVP” in the league someday.
“But step by step,” Rubio said. “If you want to be a great player, first of all your team has to win.”
Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor scored 25 points but only four in the fourth quarter while dominating a matchup against fellow top-three pick Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Wolves now have started the season 6-8, even with that 1-6 home record.
“It’s not for me to say,” Mitchell told reporters when asked if it’s too soon to add Wiggins to the likes of Wade and Nowitzki. “I’m going to give him the ball in space as much as I can. It’s for you guys to write what you want. You’ve been around long enough. You can see.”