With heavy hearts and occupied minds, the Minnesota Timberwolves hung on to win one for Flip.
Ricky Rubio had a career-high 28 points and 14 assists and the Timberwolves rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 112-111 Wednesday night in their first game since Flip Saunders’ death.
When Lou Williams somehow missed a 4-foot runner at the buzzer, Minnesota hugged and celebrated a fortunate break in a cathartic victory. Kevin Martin scored 23 points for the Timberwolves three days after they lost Saunders, the longtime coach and team president who battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I think we had a little help today,” Rubio said. “It’s been a tough week. It’s hard to explain. Everybody went through a lot of pain. But even though Flip’s gone, he will stay with us forever.”
Saunders’ recent death and a pregame moment of silence put both teams in a somber mood in their season opener. Both wore warmup shirts honoring the coach. The Timberwolves’ shirts bore the slogan “WE,” while the Lakers’ said “FLIP.”
Minnesota led 111-102 with 2:11 left, but the Lakers finished on a 9-1 run. Williams hit a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to trim Minnesota’s lead to one point. Martin missed a jumper before Williams missed his leaner.
“We stayed together as a team, something that we’ve been doing a lot this week,” said Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds in his NBA debut. “(We’re) working together as a family and doing a great job of keeping his vision alive. We just seemed to have Coach Saunders on our side, especially with Lou Williams shooting a floater for the game. Nine times out of 10, he hits that. But I think we had a sixth man on the floor.”