If only Jimmy Butler were here to see this.
The Target Center crowd lost its mind. The Timberwolves bench ran all the way across the court to mob the hero du jour, and there was still 1 minute, 45 seconds on the clock.
Andrew Wiggins, on fire, with no way to stop him.
Forgive the bench and fans if they lost their minds before the Wolves completed a 116-109 victory Sunday in their home opener over Miami, Butler’s current team. It’s been a while since both groups have experienced that kind of joy.
Eventually, Wiggins’ wide smile emerged from the pile and the Wolves closed out their third consecutive victory to begin the season.
“I was missing a lot of shots, but my team kept supporting, kept saying shoot that same shot, it’s going to fall,” Wiggins said. “It’s going to fall when it needs to fall. And it did. … It was a great feeling.”
Wiggins scored 11 straight points over that mind-boggling span of 1:43 in the fourth quarter. It included a layup and three three pointers — all this after Wiggins didn’t hit one from deep during the first 11 quarters and overtime to begin the season.
He finished with 25 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and 11 rebounds, cooling off slightly from his supernova-like start to the season. But Wiggins was there to pick him up.
“He just was complaining the whole game he can’t make a shot to me,” Towns said. “And I just told him to keep shooting, it’s going to come together. It don’t matter how the game goes, he’s a star player and he knows when he has to kick it up.”
The Wolves and the fans kicked up the energy Sunday night. It was hard not to notice the contrast between the home opener this season and last, when Wolves fans booed Butler, who missed Sunday’s game after the birth of his daughter, and coach Tom Thibodeau. Contrast that with Sunday, when the crowd gave the Wolves a standing ovation after they went up 36-23 in the opening quarter, and then cheered harder with each Wiggins basket in the fourth.
They could cheer as loud as they wanted, and when they came down from those emotional highs, there was no tension to undercut that feeling. It felt like a new dawn for the organization.
“I don’t know if ever in the moment you could point to something being a turning of the page,” Saunders said. “I will say, our fans were unbelievable tonight. … They can rally around these guys. Guys that are having to scratch and claw for things in a tough Western Conference. … I think maybe down the line we can look and see when a turning point is.”
But a night like Sunday’s was one in the making over the offseason, an offseason in which the team spent a lot of time together — also in stark contrast to last season, when the team didn’t really assemble until training camp.
“This is a team that’s unified,” Towns said. “We know that whenever something is going wrong, we all can depend on each other to get the score and to get the defense going.”
After struggling through the second and third quarters, the Wolves found their footing in the fourth, relying on Jeff Teague (21 points), Noah Vonleh (eight points) and Shabazz Napier (12 points) to set the stage for an unconscious Wiggins. Maybe that happens a season ago. But is it a coincidence that this new era produced one of the most memorable moments from Wiggins?
“He is going to have a good year,” Saunders said. “I’m in his corner, and I want to make sure he knows that.”