Raptors Conquer Wiggins-led Timberwolves
Coach Dwane Casey usually receives the lion’s share of credit – and rightfully so – for the Toronto Raptors’ fast start this season.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers were to drop off the NBA map, his Raptors would be the talk of the Eastern Conference.
Tom Thibodeau, Casey’s counterpart with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who paid a visit to Air Canada Centre Thursday night, can also be given some kudos for the Raptors’ early season chutzpah.
Thibodeau, in his first season leading the Timberwolves, was an assistant coach on the staff of Mike Krzyzewski and helped direct the U.S. men’s basketball team to gold at the Olympics in Rio.
Two players who Thibodeau helped mentor on that team were DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the two key members of the Raptors who have both said the Olympic experience helped kick-start their NBA season.
From what he saw of the pair at the Olympics, Thibodeau said he is not surprised that the Raptors are faring so well.
“The thing that I liked about them, Kyle was running the team great, making hustle plays,” Thibodeau said. “And then DeMar would fly up the floor and you could tell they knew how to read each other really, really well. I thought that added a lot to our team.”
Before the start of Thursday’s game, both Lowry and DeRozan were presented with their official Olympic championship rings, which they slipped on their fingers and proudly showed off for photographers.
The Raptors, wearing their throwback Toronto Huskies jerseys, outlasted a stubborn Minnesota team 124-110 to conclude a season-high six-game home stand with a solid 5-1 record.
The Raptors (15-7) took their time Thursday, waiting until the middle of the fourth quarter before finally putting some distance between themselves and the Timberwolves (6-16).
And they won despite an old bad habit turning up, again, a leaky defensive effort.
The Raptors allowed Minnesota to hit on more than 51 per cent of their shots and Casey was thankful to emerge with the win.
“In spite of our defence — and that’s just what I told the team,” Casey said afterward. “If we’re serious about going anywhere, doing anything special, our defence and our attention to detail, our passion for defence, our give-a-crap level for defence, has to pick up.”
A 9-0 run did the trick, aided by a couple of three-balls from Lowry and Patrick Patterson, which brought the score to 111-99 for Toronto with just under five minutes to play.
It was another sublime effort from Lowry as the Raptors point guard led the way with 25 points and 11 assists. DeRozan had 27 points, five assists and eight rebounds.
Zach LaVine was pesky for
Minnesota, with 29 points, while Andrew Wiggins had 25 points and six rebounds.
DeRozan set a franchise record with his 543rd appearance in a Toronto uniform, one more than the old mark held by Morris Peterson.
And he celebrated in the final minute with an embracing one-handed put-back slam dunk over Ricky Rubio to send the crowd home even happier.
The season hasn’t exactly gone as planned for Thibodeau, with a team brimming with young talent, including Wiggins, the NBA’s first over all pick from 2014 who hails from Vaughan, Ont.
Paired with Karl-Anthony Towns, the top pick from the 2015 draft, many were projecting a playoff appearance for Minnesota this season, territory the Timberwolves haven’t visited since 2004.
But the T-Wolves haven’t played ball – at least consistently for 48 minutes a game, according to their coach.
“We’re a work in progress,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a compilation of things. We’re striving to be a 48-minute team. I think in this league that the good teams do that. So it’s something we’re working on.”
“We’ll figure it out,” Wiggins, who is just 21 and in his third NBA season, said heading into the game.
Spurred by a large contingent of family and friends, Wiggins came out firing as the Timberwolves jumped into a 32-22 first-quarter lead.
Wiggins had 11 points in the opening frame, when Minnesota canned 59.1 per cent (13 of 22) of its shots.
Minnesota increased its advantage to as many as 12 points in the second quarter before Toronto woke up to finish with a flurry to knot the score 59-59 heading into the break.
The Timberwolves experienced one of their lulls at the beginning of the third quarter where the Raptors went on an 11-2 run to secure a 70-61 lead.
Minnesota fought back and a three by Towns, showing nice range for a 7-footer, put his team back up 83-82 before the Timberwolves settled for an 89-88 lead heading into the fourth.
Toronto flew to Boston after the game for Friday night’s game against the Celtics.