Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau made his way to the podium after his team had dismantled Philadelphia 110-86 Thursday at Target Center. He sat down and pulled the microphone closer to him. Then he paid his team perhaps the strongest compliment he can give.
“I’m not disappointed,” he said.
Coming from Thibodeau, the perfectionist’s perfectionist, this is high praise. Two days after the team had let yet another big first-half lead turn into a loss to Charlotte because of a third-quarter abyss, the Wolves played well from start to finish, got double-doubles from three players and improved to 4-7 this season.
As a result, even Thibodeau was practically giddy.
“Our defense was pretty good in the first half,” he said. “Second half, I thought we played tough. Rebounding was good. Sharing the ball was good. Overall, I was very pleased.”
There was a lot to like.
Again, Andrew Wiggins was wonderful. Wiggins, who has averaged 33 points over his past six games, personally outscored the Philadelphia starting five 35-28. He made 14 of 20 shots, three of six three-pointers, tied his career high with 10 rebounds and had four assists.
Karl-Anthony Towns, energized by the challenge of playing against Philadelphia rookie Joel Embiid, scored 25 points on 12-for-18 shooting with 10 rebounds and two blocks. Gorgui Dieng (12 points, 10 rebounds) also had a double-double.
After the game, when asked about Wiggins’ recent play, Dieng smiled and joked, “This is the first time seeing him awake on the court.”
To this, Wiggins just laughed. But seriously: After spending the summer working on his shot, he is seeing big-time results. And while Dieng was making a joke, Wiggins is much more assertive.
“Last year I might drift to the corner and stay there,” he said. “I think what [Dieng] means by that is I’m being more active.”
He and Towns did a lot, in a nationally televised game in front of 16,866 fans.
The Wolves shot 50.6 percent, holding the 76ers to 37.3 percent and 33 first-half points. Embiid had 10 points and 10 rebounds, but the 76ers were led in scoring off the bench by Dario Saric (16 points) and Nik Stauskas (13).
After leading 27-18 after the first quarter, the Wolves blitzed the 76ers in the second quarter. Wiggins scored 11 points in the quarter, and both he and Towns were a plus-20 in 7½ minutes. The Wolves outscored the 76ers 34-15 in the quarter, leading 61-33 at the break. Then, determined to avoid a third-quarter swoon, the Wolves came out and basically played the third quarter even (the Sixers outscored the Wolves 25-24), leaving the fourth quarter to be largely irrelevant.
“We had to get this one,” Dieng said. “We let a lot of games get away. But [Thursday], we didn’t do that. We did anything we could to get this one.”
The Wolves won on the boards and in the paint, playing strong defense from start to finish and scoring 21 points off 17 Philadelphia turnovers.
“But we have to do a better job from here on out,” Towns said. “Especially in the third quarter. Instead of losing by one point we have to win. We have to look at this as a point in the road. We have to look back and know we have to grow from this.”
But it has to be nice knowing the coach found so little to complain about.
“No,” Towns joked. “He just didn’t tell you what he was complaining about.”