DETROIT – You could feel the collapse coming.
Tony Snell had just hit a three-pointer with 2 minutes, 30 seconds to play to cut a once 19-point Timberwolves lead to five. Ryan Saunders called timeout as the crowd at Little Caesars Arena reached a crescendo. Not to mention the Wolves are a fast-paced team who appeared to be gassed on the tail end of a back-to-back set of games.
In previous similar spots, the Wolves might be expected to blow this game.
But there was no collapse this time, nor has there been in similar spots on the road this season. The Wolves came away with a plucky 120-114 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
“We came in the huddle, we felt we had nothing to worry about,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We knew exactly what we do.”
This was what Towns had envisioned late last season when he said the Wolves needed to instill a new culture. Nights like Monday are why he and others undertook the task of organizing a team-building trip to the Bahamas: So that when the chips are down in a hostile environment, the Wolves won’t cave.
“Continuity, cohesiveness, unity,” said Towns, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “I’ve said it before many times, I’ll say it again, I think those things, when you have that kind of cohesiveness and unity, it builds great camaraderie in the games, even when it’s really close.”
After that timeout, Andrew Wiggins hit a three-pointer, capping off another sterling performance. Then after getting two stops on defense, the Wolves got a three from Towns, putting them back up 11. The crowd grabbed its coats and headed back out into a winter storm while the Wolves improved to 4-1 on the road.
“Our coaching staff was fantastic and amazing,” Towns said. “They know who we are and our characters. They know what they had to say. We knew exactly what we needed to do. We had no worries.”
It helped that Wiggins has been able to alleviate some of those concerns. He had 33 points, six rebounds and five assists, adding another strong game to his revamped résumé.
He even drew the notice of retired Heat star Dwyane Wade, who tweeted: “Andrew Wiggins has been balling!!!!”
Wiggins said the Wolves’ confidence in their new three-point heavy offensive system hasn’t wavered, even after a day like Sunday when they missed the third-most threes (39) in NBA history. On Monday, they sank eight of their first 10 threes and 15 of 34 (45%) for the night.
“We kept believing,” Wiggins said. “Even in preseason — we had a tough time with it. I feel like now it’s getting better and every game we’re just learning more, getting more used to it and getting better.”
Saunders joked that the Wolves made sure there were no lids on the baskets Monday. The Wolves didn’t have much problem executing from deep or inside — they shot 51%.
“I’m happy. These guys are happy,” Saunders said. “They deserve a win like this on a back to back. Especially … losing a tough one last night. Fly in for one game. It can go either way, but we have a resilient group in there.”
Saunders was referring to the locker room, where players also were in a good mood as they packed for Minnesota. But it was also a businesslike atmosphere, as if they expected this.
“We’ve had a lot of close games and we seem to pull it out,” Towns said. “It’s always because we’re disciplined and we trust each other to make those kind of plays and shots.”