January 21, 2018, 12:53 am
So who saw that one coming?
In the first battle for the north, the Wolves were hit with some bad news just minutes before tip-off. Jimmy Butler was announced inactive with knee soreness, as was Jamal Crawford with a toe injury.
The Wolves were facing off with one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference without their best player, defender and leader, as well as his primary backup. The Raptors’ backcourt is among the best in the NBA so losing his presence was a huge blow.
On top of that, when Butler was out for two games earlier in the season the Wolves lost by 23 points and 21 points on consecutive nights. An enticing matchup turned into a potential blowout.
Instead the Wolves showed how far they’ve come along this season. Thanks to Towns, Wiggins and some excellent play from the bench the Wolves were able to top Toronto 115-109 in an exhilarating second half.
Nemanja Bjelica stepped into the starting lineup for Butler as the Wolves looked to play big. The Raptors controlled most of the first half, however, thanks to some early foul trouble from Towns. He ended up playing only eight minutes in the first quarter.
Wiggins stepped up in the scoring department with the majority of the Wolves’ firepower on the bench with 14 early points, including two highlight reel dunks, keeping the Wolves close enough to keep the game from unraveling on them.
The Wolves trailed by eight at halftime but quickly climbed out of the deficit with a monster third quarter led by Towns and the whistles. The Wolves outscored the Raptors 33-21 on the quarter and lived at the line. Towns scored 10 of the Wolves’ first 14 points of the quarter.
As the second half went on and the Wolves’ bench entered the game they only carried the momentum further. Tyus Jones and Marcus Georges-Hunt were flying around the court defensively with a lot of energy. They were aggressive in attacking the rim and drawing fouls as well. Even Shabazz Muhammad got in on the action.
The bench attempted 18 free throws on the night which led to a major free throw discrepancy for the game in favor of the Wolves. They out shot the Raptors from the line 42-to-21.
The game was coming down to the wire late in the fourth with the Wolves trailing by one point and 2:25 left on the clock. Georges-Hunt tipped out an offensive rebound and Wiggins splashed a 3-pointer to give the Wolves the lead for good. A possession later Towns nailed a 3-pointer to top it all off.
This was a very impressive performance for a number of reasons. Obviously with Butler out it was a huge win but the Wolves were actually able to control most of the major factors at the end of the game.
The teams were basically tied in field goal percentage at 47.0 percent for Toronto and 46.9 percent for Minnesota. The Wolves won the rebounding battle and the turnover battle. Their bench also out-played the Raptors.
If it wasn’t for Kyle Lowry’s 40-point singular effort it’s possible the Wolves are talking about a blowout.
Towns finished the game with 22 points on 6-of-7 shooting with 10 rebounds, two assists, one block and two 3-pointers. He also shot 8-of-9 from the line.
Wiggins finished with 29 points, five rebounds, three assists and one 3-pointer on 11-of-21 shooting.
The huge boost came from the bench though, led by Georges-Hunt. He finished with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and one 3-pointer. He played 29 minutes on the night as well. Though he didn’t start the game, he was out there to finish it off and came up with some huge plays on both sides in the final minutes.
He had the aforementioned offensive rebound, he took a charge on DeRozan and hit some free throws too.
It was a necessary performance from the kid and a major confidence boost. Of course we’ve seen this before with Thibs after Jones came up with huge games but is relegated back to limited minutes in a normal rotation. This was a good preview of what the Wolves have stashed away though.
This was a huge win for the Wolves that makes up for some of the painful losses they’ve made this season. They had no business winning this game if this was last year’s team. Instead the young players showed the growth they’ve had and stepped up big.
The Wolves still have yet to lose three or more games in a row this season, only the Raptors can match that. The streak was saved tonight.
Next week the Wolves travel to the west coast for three games beginning with the Los Angeles Clippers. It is unknown at this time what the severity of Butler and Crawford’s injuries are but the Wolves will be playing with fire if they continue to miss time.