MINNEAPOLIS â€” That Andrew Wiggins came through with a huge night against his hometown team didn’t come as a surprise. That he did it with Lance Stephenson by his side certainly qualified as one.
Wiggins scored 31 points, Tyus Jones hit a 3-pointer with 19.5 seconds left and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Toronto Raptors 112-109 on Wednesday night.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 29 points and 14 rebounds and Wiggins hit 11 of 19 shots to help the Timberwolves snap a four-game losing streak. Minnesota committed just eight turnovers, Shabazz Muhammad scored 22 points off the bench and Stephenson played the entire fourth quarter just hours after signing a 10-day contract.
“We were just searching,” a frustrated coach Tom Thibodeau said of going with Stephenson down the stretch. “The first half wasn’t good. We’ve got to keep working at it. Working at it, working at it, working at it. That’s our reality, and we’ve got to make it happen.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 30 points and DeMarre Carroll hit all five of his 3s and finished with 19 points and nine boards for the Raptors, who led by 13 points in the first half. Kyle Lowry added 20 points and Toronto shot 53 per cent from the field, but Lowry missed a potential tying 3 at the buzzer.
The Raptors entered with a top-five offence, but coach Dwane Casey has been harping on them to play better defence. They are just 10-14 after a 22-8 start, weathering several key injuries along the way to dip into third place in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto shot 60 per cent in the first half, finding Carroll for open 3 after open 3 to take a 13-point lead. But their defence couldn’t hold it.
Minnesota fought back in the third quarter and led 71-70 midway through the period, and Wiggins played some tremendous defence on DeRozan in the fourth quarter to keep the Wolves in it. After forcing a tough midrange pull-up, Wiggins came back and hit a turnaround fall-away for a 106-105 lead with 47.6 seconds to play.
DeRozan tied the game at 107 on a tough drive through contact from Towns, but Jones drilled a 3 from the left wing and Wiggins hit two big free throws to help the Wolves hold on.
“We played ‘sometime’ defence, and we can’t do that.” Casey said. “We’re not going to be a good team if we play ‘sometime’ defence.”
Raptors: Lowry made 6 of 19 shots, including 4 of 13 3-pointers. … PG Cory Joseph played 22 minutes, the second straight game he was Lowry’s backup after Casey bumped him down the pecking order. … Toronto lost for just the fifth time this year when shooting at least 50 per cent.
Timberwolves: PG Kris Dunn missed his fourth straight game with a bruised right hand. … Brandon Rush had a rough night, going 0 for 3 in 20 minutes and missing two wide open corner 3s and a breakaway layup.
Stephenson started the season in New Orleans but was waived in November after needing surgery to repair a groin injury.
The guy they call “Born Ready” sure didn’t look like a player who had not played in a game in three months. He hit his first two shots and scored six points, grabbed two boards and had an assist in his first eight-minute shift.
Stephenson finished the game defending Lowry, and he hounded the All-Star into 2-for-8 shooting in the period.
“I thought I would be tired, but I’ve been working so hard and I wanted to be back so bad so I was ready and confident in myself,” he said. “Just try to take the smart shots. Don’t try anything crazy and just be solid. Coach had the trust in me and left me in.”
Raptors: Toronto heads back home and gets a much-needed three-day break before hosting Detroit on Sunday night.
Timberwolves: Minnesota plays the fourth of a six-game homestand on Friday night against New Orleans.
Jon Krawczynski, The Associated Press