Well, except for Karl-Anthony Towns. KAT went to work early against rookie forward Maximilian Kleber, carrying the load in the first half as the Wolves looked like they were still trying to wake up from the extra time off. Towns couldn’t be contained by the Mavericks undersized frontcourt and finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds to secure his league-leading 21st double-double.
In the fourth, Jimmy Butler once again took control of the game, scoring 10 of his 22 points. When the pressure is on, when the game tightens up, Butler always seems to be at his best. (Maybe that’s why he claims he doesn’t even know what pressure is.) Despite the inability to distance themselves at any point throughout the night, the Wolves ultimately found a way to hold off Dallas to secure their 16th win of the season, 97-92.
“Dallas has played well,” said Tom Thibodeau. “If you’d watched their games, you would know how tough they’ve been playing. So I knew it was going to be a hard fought game.”
This was the Wolves ninth win decided by six points or less, the most such wins in the NBA this season, moving them to 15-3 when leading after three quarters. Almost none of the wins have been pretty to watch, but the Wolves continue to find ways to squeak out victories. My season motto has been “We’ll take it,” for a reason. Most of the wins feel exactly the same way; they grind out ugly victories that are often frustrating to experience down the stretch. But winning is winning.
“For us to do what we did tonight, and find a way to win, is big because you know like you said, we weren’t hitting on all cylinders,” said Towns. “But we came out after three days off and the best part is, we found a way to win, so you take the positives as they are.”
Towns left the game briefly in the fourth favoring his right knee with 3:04 remaining but re-entered shortly after and though slightly limping afterwards, he appeared to be fine. "It don't matter," Towns said. "I'll see you guys on Tuesday. The streak continues."
When asked about being home for an extended period of time, Towns talked about some of the positives that go along with that. “We need to win and be able to have a homestand and also get actual rest, be with our families and being home and in our own beds, all those things make a big difference,” said Towns. “So, it will be great to play in front of the home crowd and it will also be great to see our families after a lot of time away.”
Jamal Crawford came through off the bench, adding 16 points. They probably don’t win without his buckets. Crawford went 5-9 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line. Two of his clutch free throws came in the final 16.4 seconds.
“They’re not always going to be pretty wins,” said Crawford. “You learn more about a team when you have to go through some adversity. I’ve always said, it doesn’t just build character, it reveals it. When you go through tough stretches and still find a way to win, I think it says a lot about your group.”
Taj Gibson grabbed nine boards on the night, including some especially key rebounds down the stretch. Andrew Wiggins had an off night (3-12 with 10 points) and really struggled to make an impact offensively besides getting two big buckets down the stretch, but his defense seemed fairly strong. Thankfully the Wolves were able to hold on without getting much from him. Wiggins obviously needs to step up his play during the rest of the homestand to ensure a positive stretch over the next four games at Target Center (Sixers, Kings, Suns, Blazers).
Harrison Barnes led the Mavericks in scoring with 19 points on 8-15 shooting. Kleber and J.J. Barea both chipped in 16 points. Barea was annoying as usual, flopping for calls and complaining about whatever there was to possibly complain about. Some things never change. Dallas also missed tons of layups and corner threes, which should be noted at least somewhere in this space. This game easily could have gone south on the Wolves if Dallas wasn’t full of bricks. I will admit to being nervous about how easily the Wolves’ defense can get broken down with drive and kick action. The Miami loss was the perfect example, and tonight was eerily similar without the hot shooting from deep. It seemed like they dodged bullet after bullet.
Butler only wanted to talked about Tyus Jones after beating the Suns at home a few weeks back in Jones’ first career NBA start. Tonight, after watching Apple Valley play last night at the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic with Jones and Crawford, Butler decided it was time to give Tre Jones, the local star and Duke commit, some love.
The Wolves outscored the Mavericks 20-8 in second chance points. They entered the night averaging 14.4 second chance points per game this season (4th in the NBA). They outrebounded the Mavericks 45-33, moving to 13-4 when outrebounding their opponent. It’s always something Thibs emphasizes. Dallas only had 92 points, meaning the Wolves are now 8-2 when holding opponents under 100 points.
Nemanja Bjelica missed his ninth straight game with a left mid-foot sprain, while Dennis Smith Jr. missed his second straight game with a left hip strain. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle didn't have a time frame for Smith’s return.
The Braids Bros. (Jimmy and Andrew) made their debut on the court tonight. I think Butler should keep going with this look. Maybe Wiggins can put on a headband too?
Who is ready for braids & a headband Jimmy Butler? pic.twitter.com/M5XbvyeRH5— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) December 11, 2017
Jeff Teague on playing after a couple of days off:
“I don’t really like the rest days. You get relaxed. You get to do certain things that you don’t normally get to do and you come out a little flat. I think that’s what we did today.”
Jamal Crawford on closing out the win:
“I thought we got stops when we needed to. We were going back and forth. They had a run, we had a run. The team, they got multiple stops and then I thought Jimmy closed the game out for us. It’s such a luxury to have a player like that, that you can put the ball in his hands and he makes the right play. More times than not, it works in our favor. Even if he’s scoring or assisting, it usually works for us. I love him having the ball late so it was good for us.”
Crawford on Butler’s play late in games:
“He attracts so much attention. It’s just about making your teammates better. I think that’s a true sign of a great player
Thibodeau on what worked well tonight:
“One of the things we’ve been talking about and working on is the defensive transition. I thought that was a lot better. Obviously there’s other things we have to lock into as well, but I want the focus to be on improvement. I thought Karl got off to a great start and I thought that was important to play inside and out, and Jimmy was terrific, as was Taj. Their toughness has added so much to our team. I thought Jamal and (Gorgui) gave us great minutes off the bench.”
Thibodeau on defending against the drive-and-kick offense that Dallas was getting great looks out of:
“It’s sort of our league now. It’s a big part of everyone’s offense. Again, it comes back to having a multiple effort mentality because what you’re seeing is a false pick-and-roll on one side and a kick, and then the real pick-and-roll on the other side so your defense has to shift. And it has to shift while the ball is in the air. Our hand placement has to be level with the ball so those passes aren’t bullets coming out. When we do that, we’re very good and when we don’t, we can get hurt. The other thing that makes it work so well is even Dirk, at this stage of his career, he’s so good at slipping screens. They get the penetration, he steps back and their guards are very smart, so it makes you make decisions and you have to read the ball correctly. In the situations in which you have to veer back at the proper time, then you have to challenge the three. We knew they would take 30 threes, so making sure you’re there to challenge is important. We had a couple of mistakes to open the fourth quarter that we’ve got to clean up.”