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Wolves 124, Magic 118: The TimberBulls Prove Their Worth

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Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler help save the Wolves from blowing a 26-point lead

NBA: Orlando Magic at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Magic came into tonight on a five-game losing skid, they put the Wolves to the test in this matchup thanks to some efficient shooting early on, pesky defense throughout and a young player by the name of Aaron Gordon. It was a game filled with a lot of back and forth and really large momentum shifts, and even though the Wolves won, they somehow made me more nervous about them as a team. Jimmy Butler summed it up in his postgame interview with Marney Gellner: “All in all we won, but I’m not happy with how we did it.”

The first quarter saw the Magic pushing the tempo and scoring in transition, while the Wolves got their buckets off successful half-court sets and second-chance points. Taj Gibson again got the Wolves off to a strong start tonight, scoring Minnesota’s first six points while grabbing some crucial rebounds and making key defensive plays early on. This continues the trend of Gibson being spectacular in nearly every aspect to start this season. He finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.

The Wolves allowed the Magic to shoot 65 percent from the field in the first quarter, much of which came off layups and Orlando getting good position underneath the basket. Aaron Gordon got a few easy buckets just by making some sneaky basket cuts and exploiting the Wolves’ shaky help defense, getting the Magic out to a modest lead early on in the game.

Orlando maintained their lead throughout most of the first half by scoring off more basket cuts and getting open shots from beyond the arc. Seemingly every time the Wolves made a meaningful basket to cut the lead to one or two points, Elfrid Payton would hit the ground running like lightning and get Gordon, Terrence Ross or Nikola Vucevic an open look, beating the Wolves back down the court.

Finally at the end of the half the Wolves took the lead thanks to a three from Karl-Anthony Towns followed by a well-timed steal and bucket by Butler, a true hardwood thief if I’ve ever seen one. That sequence of plays plus some more strong play from Taj Gibson gave Minnesota a three point lead at halftime.

Butler — who finished with 26 — continued dismantling the Magic defense in the third quarter, completing a four-point play and hitting KAT with a pocket pass off a pick & roll early in the quarter. He and Gibson were the saving grace for this Wolves team tonight, exercising their gritty style of play throughout. The TimberBulls moniker has never been more appropriate.

Somewhere in the middle of the third, the Wolves started forcing turnovers and making Orlando pay with points in transition and free throws. All told, the Wolves built their lead at the line tonight, shooting 36-45 compared to the Magic’s 14-22.

Minnesota flipped their third quarter woes to outscore Orlando 41-18, trotting into the fourth with a 26-point lead. As a fan, that brief moment of elation at the end of the third where everything was going right was a weird, surreal feeling. Players were smiling, the crowd was cheering — it was glorious.

But of course that feeling was fleeting, because the Magic fired off on a 15-0 run in the four minutes to open the fourth that left the Wolves and the rest of Target Center shell-shocked before they could even tell what happened. For as good as the end of the third went, the beginning of the fourth was equally — if not more — bad. Midway through the quarter the Wolves scored just one (ONE!) point, and it came off a technical foul free throw. Finally Butler hit a much needed three with five minutes to spare in the game to give enough of a cushion for the Wolves to escape with a win, but not before Orlando made it more difficult than it should have been.

Stray Observations:

  • It’s taken a while, but I think Jimmy Butler’s defense is starting to rub off on Andrew Wiggins, who had numerous deflections tonight and looked great in his shot contests.
  • Thibs went all out with the starters tonight. Wiggins and Gibson both hit 40 minutes and the rest of the starters weren’t far behind. Obviously that would have been different if the second unit didn’t nearly blow that 26-point lead in the fourth, but the wear and tear on the starters is going to become more apparent really quick if that kind of workload continues.
  • Jamal Crawford getting MVP chants at the end of the third quarter after converting on an and-one is my spirit animal.
  • Jeff Teague had an all-around good night with a double-double, but Elfrid Payton gave him a hard time toward the end of the game on defense. Payton is damn quick and a pesky defender.
  • Butler missed back-to-back crucial free throws at the very end of the game. Let’s hope that Reggie Jackson mind game doesn’t do more damage than it did on Monday.
  • Is Cherry Berry even open on Thanksgiving?