OKLAHOMA CITY – A Thunder fan near the Timberwolves bench shouted at Andrew Wiggins as Wiggins was about to enter the game in the third quarter. Wiggins initially didn’t hear him, so he turned back and asked, “What?”
“You’re still not as good as Jimmy Butler,” the fan said.
Wiggins turned away and said nothing. Instead, his play Sunday night expressed all he needed to say in a 114-112 victory over Oklahoma City, the first Western Conference team the Wolves have defeated on the road in 13 tried this season.
Wiggins did that by scoring a season-high 30 points, including the winning bucket, a driving layup he hit with 14.3 seconds remaining.
“I just tried to be ultra-aggressive,” Wiggins said. “They were blitzing the pick-and-rolls and I just tried to be patient and found my spots — and be aggressive. Guys are hurt, so we have to step up.”
The Wolves overcame left ankle injuries to guards Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose, who both sat out the game, a game-high 31 points from Paul George and a triple-double from Russell Westbrook (23 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists).
They were able to do so because for once, key buckets fell for the Wolves in clutch time, like a three-pointer Dario Saric hit from the right corner with 37.8 seconds remaining to put the Wolves ahead 111-110. Westbrook gave the Thunder the lead back with a reverse layup before Wiggins, who made 11 of 20 shots from the field, got the Wolves another victory in the same Chesapeake Energy Arena he hit a 30-foot buzzer-beater to win a game a season ago.
“This team is on a whole other level when ‘Wigs’ plays like that,” said rookie Josh Okogie, who provided defense on George’s last-second three-pointer that clanged off the backboard “It relieves a lot of pressure on [Karl-Anthony Towns]. It makes KAT less guardable because all the attention can’t go on KAT. Sometimes we lack scoring in certain areas of the game. Wigs was that kind of safety net for us and he was great for us all game.”
On their plane ride following a 124-98 loss to the Spurs on Friday, forward Taj Gibson said some of the discussion revolved around Wiggins.
“We were talking about things we need to do better,” Gibson said. “A lot of us were like, ‘We got to get Wig the ball. We got to get Wig the ball a lot more.’ ”
Added Towns, who had 18 points: “We asked [Wiggins] to be dominant and he came out and proved why he’s one of the best to ever wear a Timberwolves jersey.”
Wiggins wanted to attack the rim whenever he could, especially on his last field goal.
“Coach [Tom Thibodeau] drew up a good play, my team got me open, set good screens.” Wiggins said. “[Thunder center] Steven Adams was guarding me so I tried not to settle. I tried to get to the rim and make the play.”
Because he did, the Wolves got a needed victory not just for the standings but for the team’s psyche after suffering so many defeats against Western Conference opponents.
“We’re just tired of losing,” Gibson said. “We felt like we’re a better team than what we showed. Guys were real resilient.”
Now the next challenge — to keep the good vibes rolling into the next part of the schedule, which includes four of five on the road. It would help if Wiggins played like he did Sunday.
“We can be beyond great,” Robert Covington said. “[Wiggins] … left it all on the court.”