The Minnesota Timberwolves have had an up-and-down start to the 2017-18 NBA season, opening 3-3 with a pair of close wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder sandwiching back-to-back blowout defeats by the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. They found themselves playing another down-to-the-wire contest on Monday, trying to hold onto a late lead against a tough Miami Heat squad at AmericanAirlines Arena in South Florida.
As you might recall, the Wolves have had a bit of trouble with maintaining second-half leads and winning close games over the last year or so. So it was heartening to see maxed-out swingman Andrew Wiggins decide to take an innovative approach to trying to salt this one away.
“What,” he asked himself, “if I dunked the ball so hard I made the earth open up and swallow the entire opposing team, sending everyone in a Heat uniform tumbling into the sea?”
With just over 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Minnesota holding a two-point lead, Wiggins isolated on lanky and quick Heat defender Josh Richardson. One quick jab to the right, and Wiggins had an opening, promptly blowing past the Miami wing with a left-hand dribble and making a beeline for the rim.
Richardson, to his credit, raced to stay on Wiggins’ hip, tracking him into the paint. He refused to give up on the play, leaping at nearly the same time as Wiggins in hopes of altering the shot. It was very, very cool.
Props to Josh Richardson for trying extremely hard to contest that Andrew Wiggins dunk.
— Danny Chau (@dannychau) October 31, 2017
It was also very, very unsuccessful.
— NBA (@NBA) October 31, 2017
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 31, 2017
The thing about Wiggins’ bold gambit, though? While it was extremely rad, and while it gave the Wolves a four-point lead with 38 seconds to go, it did not cement a victory.
Heat guard Dion Waiters answered Wiggins’ attacking by forcing his way to the front of the rim and drawing a foul on Wolves star Jimmy Butler, earning a pair of free throws that got it back to two with 31 seconds to go. After Wiggins came up empty on a layup try on the ensuing Minnesota trip, Miami had the ball back and a chance to extend the game … and Waiters took that chance:
— All Ball (@allballapp) October 31, 2017
Waiters declined a screen from backcourt partner Goran Dragic, then sprinted right past Butler for a scoop layup that fell through to tie the game at 110 with 3.6 ticks left on the clock. An attempt at a game-winning 3-pointer by Karl-Anthony Towns went awry, and the two teams headed into overtime.
Once there, the Wolves took control, ripping off six straight points to take a two-possession lead with three minutes to go in the extra session. The Heat battled back, though, closing to within 119-117 on a 3-pointer by former Boston Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk with 49 seconds to go.
That’s when Wiggins decided not to be dissuaded by the fact that his first attempt to dunk a hole in the Heat didn’t result in immediate victory. If at first you don’t succeed, and all that, right?
— All Ball (@allballapp) October 31, 2017
After an evil jab step that sent Richardson to the deck, Wiggins sliced to his right and elevated. Heat forward Justise Winslow, a brave man who believes in the virtue of helping his teammates, slid over to try to protect the rim. He jumped very high. Wiggins jumped higher, and cocked the hammer, and very nearly brought it down on Winslow’s head; instead, he drew a foul, earned two freebies, and pushed the lead back up to four.
Waiters, however, refused to be denied, scoring five more quick ones to get Miami within one with five seconds to go:
Despite the result, an amazing night for Dion Waiters.
DW scored 21 of his game-high 33 in the final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter and OT pic.twitter.com/3CsshlmuSb
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) October 31, 2017
Teague hit a pair of free throws, though, and Waiters’ 35-foot heave at the buzzer caught the side of the rim, icing a 125-122 Wolves win.
Waiters led all scorers with 33 points in 38 minutes, with 21 of them coming in after the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Teague led the way for the Wolves, pouring in 23 points, dishing 11 assists, snaring six steals and pulling down five rebounds.
When the Wolves needed answers late, though, they went to Wiggins, who scored 13 of his 22 after halftime. From Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press:
“We have a lot of people who know how to win, know how to close out games,” Wiggins said. […]
“We’ve got some guys on this team that can really play,” Teague said. “Down the stretch, Wig was huge.”
Whether adding veterans like Butler, Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford in the offseason, combined with continued growth for young guns Wiggins and Towns, really does give the Wolves the seasoning they need to pull out more of these close games remains to be seen. The hope, at least, is that the process of figuring that out includes many, many more drives, dunks and attempted dunks that make you think Andrew Wiggins is trying to cause tectonic events.
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