For most of its runtime, Monday night's matchup between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena looked headed for arguably the most unlikely result of the NBA season so far. The young and talented Wolves dominated the Hawks in the early going, opening up an 11-point lead after the first quarter before getting even better in the second to hold a 72-42 advantage at the half. That margin eventually got as high as 34 early in the second half, at which point Minnesota looked headed for a shocking road blowout of a red-hot team that hadn't lost since the first night of the 2015-16 campaign.
The Wolves eventually got that impressive win, albeit for very different reasons. Atlanta took the third quarter 42-21 to make it competitive and controlled most of the fourth quarter to take an improbable 107-106 lead with 3:25 remaining. Yet the Wolves regained the upper hand with strong play in crunch time, holding the Hawks scoreless thereafter and letting Andrew Wiggins take control late to come away with a 117-107 win. The Wolves now have their first win in Atlanta since 2002 and are 4-0 on the road this season.
Wiggins deserves a great deal of credit for both building the early lead and closing out the result when it looked in doubt. The reigning Rookie of the Year tied a career high with 33 points on 15-of-22 shooting and scored eight straight for Minnesota from 3:44 to 1:30 in the fourth to turn a tied score into a multi-possession lead. Those buckets and free throws primarily came from Wiggins's own creation, too — he looked like a go-to guy and not just a capable scorer. Five other Wolves scored in double figures, but Wiggins was far and away the team's top offensive player.
At the other end, No. 1-overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns helped snuff out the Hawks' chances by displaying the defensive talent that makes him such an exciting prospect. Towns logged all three of his blocks on two consecutive possessions under the 2:00 mark — and all three came on Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague. The second possession include two blocks of Teague lay-ups, which apparently frustrated the All-Star guard enough to have him engage in some extracurricular contact with Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica as most other players bounded up the court in transition. Take a look:
Referees did not catch Teague's actions in the moment, but it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him receive some kind of punishment from the league office over the next few days.
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Outside of any pending discipline, the Hawks will feel the pain of losing this game when they appeared to have all the momentum against a young, inexperienced team. Yet the comeback itself should give Atlanta reason to feel good about their performance, because they very easily could have given up on this result. The fact that it's as close as it was is a testament to the Hawks' pride and desire to prove that last season's 60-win finish was no fluke.
On the other side, the Wolves arguably learned more about their potential than they would have via a massive blowout, especially considering that budding stars like Wiggins and Towns took over when it mattered most. These players are supposed to carry the Wolves into a new era and looked able to shoulder that responsibility on Monday night. They will certainly encounter similar challenges in the future and will likely fail in many of those circumstances. But this game in Atlanta showed that they have the ability to grow into those roles.
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