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Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins reminds all that he can be a 'closer'

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) reacts after hitting a buzzer beating shot Sunday, Oct. 22, to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Andrew Wiggins has been the Timberwolves' big-shot taker for the past two years.

In each of the past two seasons, Wiggins led Minnesota in field goal attempts and points scored in clutch situations — when the game is within five points with less than five minutes to play.

And he's often capitalized on the opportunities. Wiggins hit a game-winner from the baseline in a Wolves' 112-111 win at Phoenix last season. A week later, he hit a shot from a similar location with 10 seconds left in regulation to send a game against Orlando to overtime, which Minnesota won.

Wiggins figured to cede the role of "closer" to Jimmy Butler this season. Butler is known as one of the game's most clutch players. The All-NBA wing was third in the NBA in clutch-time scoring last season. Butler can get his shot off against anyone and score in a variety of ways, and he's succeeded in the closing minutes more times than you can count.

But Sunday's 115-113 victory over Oklahoma City was a reminder that Wiggins will not shy away from the biggest shots in the biggest moments. Yes, Wiggins hit the shot everyone was talking about Monday, Oct. 23 — a banked-in three-pointer at the buzzer from 30 feet out to give the Wolves a massive divisional road win. But that was just the last in a series of clutch offensive plays Wiggins made down the stretch.

With the game on the line in the final five minutes, Wiggins scored 11 points, shooting 4 for 5 from the field, 1 for 1 from three and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line. Many of those buckets were coming with ease. Wiggins scored off a nice cut with four minutes to play. He used a spin move to split two defenders to get an easy layup with two minutes left. With 40 seconds to play, Wiggins passed to Taj Gibson, who missed an open jumper. But Wiggins dove to the rim, collected the rebound and finished with a put-back dunk.

Wiggins generated three relatively easy looks for himself and others through different methods as the Oklahoma City defense attempted to clamp down — exactly what you look for your best player(s) to do in those situations.

Then there was the game-winning 3-pointer, in which Wiggins got open in the back court to receive the pass, used a screen from Karl-Anthony Towns to get loose and told reporters he kept an eye on the clock to get as far down the court as possible before pulling up for the shot. That play alone demonstrated poise and patience — two attributes that fare well when looking for late-game success.

Don't expect Wiggins to start backing away from big shots now. While he is considered by many to be Minnesota's third offensive weapon this season, behind Butler and Towns, Wiggins has never lacked confidence in his own abilities. Through three games, Wiggins is the Wolves' leading scorer at 24.7 points a game.

"Obviously, I think I'm a great scorer, offensively I'm a great weapon, and I think of myself as a No. 1 option," Wiggins said on Media Day. "And I know other guys probably think the same thing about themselves, too, but it's not in a selfish way. It's more in a way of believing what I can do."

Maybe there's enough room for more than one closer in Minnesota.

"Wiggs, obviously, hits big shots; KAT hits big shots," Jamal Crawford said. "We have a team full of guys who can really help each other. I think that's what it's about for us."

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