OTTAWA — Sam Mitchell says he has no problem with his team trailing for an entire game if it can find a way to win in the end.
That’s exactly what Mitchell’s Minnesota Timberwolves did Wednesday night as they defeated the Toronto Raptors 89-87 in pre-season play at the Canadian Tire Centre.
“We’re learning how to win,” said Mitchell. “I’m proud of our starters to come out and showing our guys how to execute the offence and the defence and then I’m proud of our young guys we had in there late in the third and fourth quarter and some of the plays they made.”
Mitchell says with the amount of youth on this Timberwolves (1-3) team growing pains are to be expected.
The two teams were in Ottawa as part of the fourth annual NBA Canada Series. The fifth and final stop is in Montreal on Friday night as the Raptors (3-2) take on the Washington Wizards at the Bell Centre.
The 15,522 on hand were clearly cheering for the Raptors, but there was no denying the enthusiasm for Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, a Toronto native.
“This is important because fans don’t really get a chance to really experience NBA players playing an NBA game,” said Wiggins, who finished the game with 11 points. “This gives people in different cities, different provinces a chance to watch NBA basketball live.”
This marked the Timberwolves’ first win of the pre-season and while it won’t mean much once the regular season starts, Wiggins admitted it still felt pretty good.
“It’s always good to win, that’s what we play for,” said Wiggins. “I’m just glad we got the win. The guys on the floor played hard.”
James Johnson and Delon Wright both had 11 points for Toronto, while Anthony Bennett led the Raptors at the half with nine points and finished with 10. DeMar DeRozan returned to the Toronto lineup after getting a rest Monday against Minnesota.
Gorgui Dieng led Minnesota with 14 points and three rebounds, while Tayshaun Prince scored 13.
The Raptors took the lead in the opening minutes of the game and appeared poised to walk away with the victory, but the Timberwolves finished strong.
“I thought our defence was solid until the fourth quarter,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “The second half we gave up 16 free throws.”
After trailing the entire game Minnesota took its first lead, 80-79, with four minutes remaining in the game and never looked back as some strong defensive play allowed them to take the win.
Casey talked about the importance of players learning to take care of things on every possession otherwise things can start to fall apart as it did on this night.
“I’m seeing progress,” said Casey. “I’m seeing progress with our defence in stretches. Fourth quarter aside I thought it was pretty solid throughout the game.
“It’s a great opportunity for our young players to come in, get some runs, see what they have, put them in pressure situations, close game situations and executing down the stretch was good for us too.”
Toronto held a 15-point lead, 63-48, midway through the third. The Timberwolves cut that lead to three in the final minutes of the quarter with the Raptors ending the quarter leading 67-60.
Toronto led 25-23 after the first quarter and stretched the lead to 11 points at the half leading 54-43.
Minnesota tied the game 32-32 midway through the second, but the Raptors went on to score eight unanswered points.
Notes: Raptors G Terrence Ross did not make the trip to Ottawa due to a sore left ankle. Former member of the Raptors and Timberwolves Chauncey Billups was on hand for the game and given an Ottawa Senators jersey.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected version of an earlier story. The Raptors will play the Washington Wizards in Montreal on Friday night, not Thursday night, as previously stated.