MINNEAPOLIS — On the cusp of claiming a dubious place in the NBA record books, the Philadelphia 76ers found the breakthrough they sought for more than two months.
The 76ers entered Wednesday with an 0-17 record, one loss away from tying the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets for the worst start to a season in NBA history. They avoided that fate by earning their first victory of the season, 85-77 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Afterward, there was a mixture of relief and elation felt in the 76ers’ locker room.
“There’s a human side to it,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “You walk into that locker room and you’re just proud of them for sticking together. They were overjoyed.”
On his way to a game-high 20 points and nine assists, Philadelphia guard Michael Carter-Williams took command in the fourth quarter, helping the 76ers fend off a late surge from the Timberwolves (4-13).
Seconds after a 3-pointer from guard Mo Williams put Minnesota up by two points with less than three minutes remaining, Carter-Williams set up guard K.J. McDaniels for a 3-pointer. Carter-Williams followed up on the next possession with a driving layup with 1:34 left that put Philadelphia in front for good.
“When Mike gets like that, he’s hard to stop,” McDaniels said of Carter-Williams, who scored 14 second-half points. “We just got out of the way. He passed to us, and we were ready to shoot. He did a great job of leading us.”
For the Timberwolves, Wednesday’s loss brought them to a new low in a season that is unraveling with three of their top players — point guard Ricky Rubio, center Nikola Pekovic and shooting guard Kevin Martin — sidelined due to injuries. Losing to the lowly 76ers only added insult to injury in their sixth loss in seven games.
“That’s going to be on everyone’s mind for a long time,” Minnesota rookie forward Andrew Wiggins said. “No team wanted to be that team.”
Wolves forward Thaddeus Young, who was traded from the 76ers to the Timberwolves in the offseason as part of a three-team deal that sent forward Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, finished with a team-leading 16 points and six rebounds against his former club.
Sloppy play plagued both teams throughout the night. While shooting a combined 37.3 percent from the floor, Minnesota and Philadelphia committed 18 apiece turnovers, more than half of which came before halftime
The 76ers managed to take control of much of the game’s early going, using a 17-5 run that put the Timberwolves in a 12-point hole early in the second quarter.
After the poor start, Minnesota gradually closed the gap. Philadelphia scored only three points in the final eight minutes of the first half. The Timberwolves took advantage and came back to establish a 34-32 halftime lead.
Philadelphia slowly regained control as the Timberwolves struggled to keep up in the fourth quarter. The 76ers built off a one-point lead early in the final quarter, preventing Minnesota’s rally in the final minutes from escalating.
Wiggins ended the night with no turnovers, but Minnesota’s other four starters had at least four apiece. Minnesota shot 50 percent in the fourth quarter (10-for-20), including four 3-pointers, but several key shots and critical turnovers ultimately derailed the Timberwolves.
“What is disappointing was the sense of urgency,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “We’ll have to address that. There’s not really much to say on that. Our sense of urgency wasn’t there. … We’re not a very good team right now.”
Philadelphia shot 5-for-24 from 3-point range, but forward Robert Covington came off the bench to convert on three of six shots from long distance en route to posting 17 points.
While it is only one win, the victory carried significant weight for the 76ers.
“For me personally, it’s a big relief off my chest,” he said. “The same for the rest of the guys. They say that they feel more relaxed now that we have a win. I think we can build off this and get some more wins.”
The Philadelphia 76ers Finally Break Their 17-Game Losing Streak.