The Timberwolves needed a win like this at some point.
It wasn’t just Andrew Wiggins hitting a buzzer-beater from nearly half court to give his Timberwolves a 115-113 win in Oklahoma City. It wasn’t just Karl-Anthony Towns having yet another double-double, along with hitting the big go-ahead shot just moments before the Wiggins’ big shot. It wasn’t just Jeff Teague breaking out of his shell and dropping his first productive game of the year.
It was more than that.
This was a game where the Timberwolves were able to hold off an MVP – Russell Westbrook – playing MVP-quality basketball amidst a high-stakes comeback. They kept their cool when Carmelo Anthony, one of the best clutch shooters in NBA history, hit a go-ahead 3-point shot with 5 seconds to go.
This was a game the Timberwolves needed, because they saw a defeat staring them down, through the eyes of an MVP and two additional All-Stars, and they still overcame it.
The way the game started off, it didn’t even seem like the Wolves would need to overcome anything. With the exception of Steven Adams dominating Towns on their deadly pick-and-roll, the Timberwolves had their way by most accounts in the first half. The built a double-digit lead off the success of familiar faces, Wiggins and Towns. It also displayed the most efficient start for Teague in a Timberwolves uniform. Teague finished with a season-high in both scoring (19) and assists (nine).
The Thunder, fresh off a loss against the Utah Jazz from the night before, had an edge to their game, but it wouldn’t fully show itself until the second half. Russell Westbrook played a mostly tame game until the fourth quarter hit, shooting at a modest rate early, trying to get his teammates involved. Paul George, Westbrook’s most celebrated new teammate, shot 6-for-20 in the contest, and started the game as poorly as he finished it.
When the second half hit, the idea of Wiggins hitting a clutch 3-pointer seemed laughable. He shot just 2-for-7 in the third quarter, had a turnover and seemed to have been figured out by Paul George.
But then he got the lane for a dunk that changed got him back on track for the rest of the game.
He got to the free-throw line for a pair of free throws – albeit making just one – before the quarter ended. The momentum carried over for Wiggins, and it came back around to give the Wolves the victory.
Despite Wiggins’ 12 4th quarter points on 4-for-6 shooting, the Wolves never pulled away. While Westbrook deferred much of the first three quarters, fans saw a glimpse into the MVP-level Westbrook from a year ago in the final quarter. A slew of 3-pointers and and-ones took place in what felt like just a few minutes.
This appeared in full force on a sequence when Westbrook combated the Wolves by himself and won. He hit 5 points in a row to get the game tied for the first time since the second quarter. After a go-ahead bucket by Towns, the final sequences of the game commended, and Wiggins put the game away.
This isn’t the first buzzer-beater for Wiggins; he won a game at Phoenix from the corner a season ago. Additionally, it isn’t the first buzzer beater the Wolves have handed out to the Thunder in recent years; Ricky Rubio notched one in March 2016. But Sunday’s will very likely end up the most meaningful of the trio.
The season is still young, but this was a landmark victory in many ways for the Timberwolves. They beat a team many consider to be better than them, on their home floor. They were able to withstand an MVP-level performance from the reigning MVP.
If Teague can continue his now-upward trajectory, Towns can continue to learn to play with other stars, and Wiggins can continue to excel as the team’s third option, things will continue to go in the right direction for the Timberwolves. They needed a win like this at some point; the fact that it came this early in the season could be a wonderful perk for them long-term.
For now, the Timberwolves will enjoy this victory, but it’s just the beginning. They hope so, anyway.