When Wolves point guard Jeff Teague came to the bench late in the third quarter with the Wolves on a monster run, he thought his night might be over.
“I was hoping,” he said. “No, honestly. I was like, ‘Man, I think everyone will get a chance to play tonight.’ ”
Things changed quickly.
Up 26 points after a monstrous 41-18 third quarter, the Wolves ended up having to sweat out last-minute free throws in a 124-118 victory over the Orlando Magic at Target Center on Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 16,402.
In a game in which the Wolves were defensively challenged at the start and the finish, they shot 12-for-19 from the field in the third quarter — four of seven on three-pointers — while outscoring the Magic 41-18.
The fourth? Role reversal. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau started with his bench in the fourth quarter. Before two minutes had elapsed, he called a timeout. With 9 ½ minutes to play and that 26-point lead down to 17, Thibodeau put all his starters back in the game. Jimmy Butler’s corner three with 5:06 left ended Orlando’s 19-1 quarter-opening run that had pulled the Magic within eight.
Thibodeau continues to harp about the fourth quarter being different, but it continues to be a problem. A lost lead against Detroit on Sunday, a fade late against Charlotte a day later. Wednesday a near-collapse.
“We have to work at it,” Thibodeau said. “You have to be tough-minded.”
The Wolves were just tough enough.
Teague’s basket with 2:31 left pushed the lead to 13. But the Magic kept coming. And the Wolves (11-7) made just enough free throws down the stretch to end a two-game losing streak.
“We took it for granted,” said Taj Gibson, who had a season-high 24 points, plus nine rebounds. “We were stagnant, taking quick shots. Sometimes when you’re up big, you tend to relax a little bit. That team there, like most teams in the NBA, they’re pros. They kept playing hard.”
Butler’s 26 points matched a season high. He hit on 10 of 19 shots and three of four three-pointers. Teague had 22 points and 11 assists. Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The Wolves needed all of it. All five Magic starters scored 10 or more points, led by Aaron Gordon’s 26 points. Terrence Ross had 22 and Evan Fournier had 19. Orlando’s bench outscored the Wolves reserves 30-14.
“I feel we let up a little bit,” said Andrew Wiggins, who had 20 points, making five of six fourth-quarter free throws. “We thought the game was over. But they kept coming and coming, made shots, gained confidence.”
And with that train already moving downhill, it was difficult for the Wolves starters, thrust back into the game in the middle of that run, to stem the tide.
Ultimately, though, the Wolves won and the Magic (8-10) lost for the sixth consecutive time.
The temptation is to say Minnesota might have learned a valuable — and ultimately not costly — lesson. But time will tell. Despite the fourth-quarter slump, Thibodeau noted his team’s 124 points. “My concern is what we’re doing defensively,” he said.
The Magic shot 50.5 percent overall, 60 percent in the fourth. “If we’re going to go anywhere, we have to correct that,” Thibodeau said.