With about two minutes left in Friday’s game, with the Timberwolves trailing Sacramento by one, with a recently history of failed attempts at closing out games hanging in the Target Center air, with the ball in his hands, Andrew Wiggins thought:
“My mindset was attack,” Wiggins said. “Hold the ball hard. Make sure nobody takes it from you. They weren’t calling anything, so I just attacked the rim.”
Wiggins’ driving layup put the Wolves up for good in a 99-95 victory that ended a four-game losing streak.
For Wiggins, these were gaudy numbers. He scored 32 points, one off his career high. He also matched his career high with 10 rebounds, two very big ones coming down the stretch. And he had six assists.
And it was all a part of the plan. Really.
Interim coach Sam Mitchell talked about tweaking his lineup a few days ago. With Kevin Garnett (rest) and Kevin Martin (wrist) out for Wednesday’s game at New York, fans didn’t know what sort of lineup they would see when the Wolves were healthy.
Turns out, it looked very familiar. Mitchell went back to the lineup he started the season with. He had veterans Garnett and Tayshaun Prince in with Ricky Rubio, Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. That gave Mitchell two defensive-minded veterans to set the early tone. It also put Wiggins back at shooting guard, a position, Mitchell has ultimately decided, that suits Wiggins best.
“I just think for us, as much as we can keep Andrew at the 2, it helps him,” Mitchell said. “His numbers are not nearly as good at the 3 [small forward]. That’s something we had to find out the hard way.”
It might make things difficult, with veteran Kevin Martin and Zach LaVine needing minutes there, too. But, Mitchell decided, Wiggins is better when he doesn’t have to guard bigger forwards, and in a better position to do what he does best on offense.
When asked about it, Wiggins smiled and shrugged, saying, “He knows better than me.”
Just about every move Mitchell made worked. Towns battled both DeMarcus Cousins and foul trouble but finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Rubio had 12 points, eight assists, seven rebounds. Shabazz Muhammad had 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Cousins led Sacramento (10-16) with 24 points, but he needed 25 shots. Rudy Gay had 20 points, Darren Collison 15.
The Wolves (10-16) outrebounded the Kings by 18 and got 16 second-chance points. This was a team effort. As Towns said, it doesn’t matter what the lineup is but what the whole team does. But the Wolves’ starting lineup got the team off to strong starts in each half. And just about everybody contributed down the stretch.
The defense, which had struggled so mightily of late, held the Kings to 1-for-10 shooting during a 6½-minute in the fourth quarter when the Wolves didn’t score a point.
But Cousins’ layup with 3:03 left gave the Kings their first lead since the second quarter. But, moments later, Wiggins drove and scored. Then he rebounded Gay’s missed 14-footer, was fouled and hit two free throws with 1:20 left for a three-point lead. Over the last 80 seconds, Wiggins and Rubio combined to go 6-for-6 from the foul line to seal the victory.
And, perhaps, seal Wiggins’ spot as the starting shooting guard. “Tayshaun makes a difference, defensively,” Mitchell said. “It takes Andrew off those bigger, stronger guys. It just gives us an advantage when he’s at the 2.”