Andrew Wiggins scored a career-high 47 points on 14-of-21 shooting and Nemanja Bjelica had a career-high 24 in his first-ever start as the Minnesota Timberwolves rolled the Los Angeles Lakers 125-99 on Sunday night.
“I thought a lot of guys stepped up,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose Wolves were undermanned with Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad and Brandon Rush out.
“The obvious is what Andrew did to score the way he did and make plays and put pressure on the defense. It was a great performance. But I thought Bjelly stepping in and playing the small forward position, being ready to play, I thought he played a terrific game also.”
While the focus was on Wiggins and Bjelica Sunday night, he also credited other players in Minnesota’s dismantling of another good, young team.
“Ricky [Rubio] got us going, strong first quarter, set the tone for the team. And I thought AP [Adreian Payne] gave us really good minutes, and that was a big plus,” he said of Rubio, who had 10 points and 10 assists, and Payne who had 10 points off the bench. “We needed everyone. Karl [Towns] was excellent, Gorgui [Dieng] had some tough matchups with small guys — I thought he was solid.”
Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who complimented Minnesota’s prolific youth before the game and said a 2-1 road trip would be a success, came away impressed with their aggressive play throughout the game.
“They played much more aggressive than we did,” he said. “That was obviously where we wanted to be, but there’s not many teams in the NBA that can go three in four nights on the road and can bring it on that last night.”
In regard to Wiggins specifically, he pointed to his ability to get to the charity stripe.
“We couldn’t keep him off the line,” he said. “He shot 22 free throws, and you let a player as good as him get an additional 22 free chances at it, 1) he’s going to score a lot and 2) he’s going to get hot because he’s in rhythm from all the free throws he’s shooting.”
Wiggins made 17 of his 22 free throws.
Both Wiggins and Bjelica are quiet players, so the videos might be a bit quiet. Wiggins was happy with his performance, but complimented Bjelica before going on about his career-high 47 points Sunday night.
“I shot 24 times yesterday,” he said. “I shot a lot. Thibs told me to be more aggressive. I said ‘alright’ and I just went for it.”
As for Bjelica, he knew he was the next man up — and certainly thrived because of it. “A few minutes before the game coach told me I was starting because Zach and Bazz were out,” he said. “You need to be ready every night. I needed this game for myself because of last summer I had many issues, first with my injury and then I missed the Olympic games.”