As the Memphis Grizzlies were gnawing away at the Timberwolves' lead Saturday night, with the announced crowd of 15,608 at Target Center hoping but perhaps not really believing, it was starting to look like so many games had before: big lead, sizable collapse.
But not this time.
With Ricky Rubio leading the way all night, the Wolves scored the final five points of the game — all from the free-throw line — to win 106-101.
This after the Wolves had built a 16-point lead in the second quarter, owned an 11-point lead at halftime and maintained a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter. The Wolves, who have squandered so many of these leads this season, put this one in the bank. But not without some drama.
"Today we finished," rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
And it felt good. The Wolves came out of this victory feeling they had both found a way to win a tight game and also had rediscovered the kind of ball movement they had early in the season, when the team started 8-8.
The Wolves scored 21 fast-break points, all in the first half, 15 coming in a brilliant second quarter in which they had a 20-1 run filled with good defense, great ball movement and athletic finishes.
And, in the end, they held firm, picking up their first victory against a team with a winning record since beating Atlanta Nov. 25.
"We learned a lot in the Dallas game," interim coach Sam Mitchell said, referring to Wednesday's overtime road loss, when the Wolves led by 10 in the fourth quarter. "We got good shots and trusted each other and moved the ball. … It seemed like every time they hit a big shot we came down and hit a basket. And we did it by moving the basketball. That's what I'm happy about.''
Rubio scored 15 points. He had seven in a row during that 20-1 run, and he hit three of four free throws down the stretch. He also had 12 assists for the Wolves (14-31), who won for the second consecutive time at home.
Shabazz Muhammad scored a season-high 25 points. Andrew Wiggins added 19, including two game-sealing free throws. Towns had 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting while pushing and shoving with Memphis center Marc Gasol all night.
Mario Chalmers scored 19 points to lead Memphis (25-20), which saw a four-game winning streak end. Gasol had 17, Matt Barnes 13.
But it looked to be slipping away late, when that 10-point Wolves lead vanished into a 101-101 tie after Gasol's 9-footer with 1:28 left.
The Wolves then missed two three-pointers, and Barnes missed at the other end. Rubio was then fouled as he tried to drive on Mike Conley and hit one of two free throws with 35.1 seconds left.
Then came the big play. Out of a timeout, Memphis' Jeff Green was unable to inbound the ball, thanks in large part to Towns denying Gasol the pass. The five-second violation gave the ball back to the Wolves.
With 14.9 seconds left, Rubio hit two more free throws, and after Conley missed a short jumper, Wiggins sealed the game with two free throws with 5.4 seconds to go.
Finally, the Wolves slammed the door.
"I know it's frustrating for the fans to see we keep getting close and don't always win it," Mitchell said. "But they're young. The thing that I'm proud of and the thing I feel very confident about going forward is that the more opportunities they keep giving themselves to learn now to win, eventually we're going to learn it."