MINNEAPOLIS — Kanye’s “Through the Wire” blared from Jimmy Butler’s portable speaker in the Timberwolves’ locker room after the team’s unlikely comeback win over Portland on Monday night.
Jeff Teague quietly sang along as Jamal Crawford was surrounded by reporters eager to ask about his 16 fourth quarter points (and 23 total off the bench) that kept the Wolves alive every time the Blazers tried to bury them with another bucket.
“Jamal’s one of those guys that on any given night he can get you 30 points,” said Teague. “I played with him before and I’ve seen him do things like that multiple times; damn near every game that year I played with him. I expect that when he comes into the game and I trust him with the ball at the end of the game.”
It might sound odd, but the track that introduced the world to Kanye felt like the perfect song to fill the locker room after the game. At the end of the night, Butler carried the Wolves with an ailing back to the tune of 37 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. The gritty performance came only 48 hours after laying on the floor in pain from the back spasms he experienced against the Phoenix Suns. As the track played, I thought about perseverance; battling through tough times, right down to the wire, even through the fire.
“I ride for everybody in this locker room,” Butler said during his always insightful postgame interview. “I’m going to battle with them as long as I can walk, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, I love this game and I always think like, you know, a kid from Tomball, a long time ago, if you had to tell him your back will hurt but you still get to play in an NBA game, he’s jumping up at the opportunity every single time. I’m just thinking of all of that, then I come in here and see my guys in this locker room getting ready.”
DOWN 10 POINTS with 7:28 remaining in the contest, most long-time Wolves fans probably wrote in a loss and that most definitely would have been smart money. The team is (gulp) 10-616 over the last 20 years in games they were down by 10 points with eight minutes left. (That is difficult to take in.) But tonight the Wolves did the unthinkable and overcame a deficit of 10+ points in the final eight minutes for the first time since Feb. 22, 2012 vs. Utah. Five years ago, they rallied from 15 points down to win 100-98 on Luke Ridnour’s game-winner.
(Shout-out to all the Dad’s in the world, like mine, who always loved watching Ridnour play ball. I still remember fist-pumping in my basement after he hit this floater to beat the Jazz. Look at how happy all of the old Wolves were in this moment. Ricky and Kevin, Anthony Tolliver and Brad Miller, Martell Webster and Super Cool Beas, J.J., Make it Wayne, The Caged Lion, Bill Bayno, and The Godfather.)
Timberwolves’ records over last 20 seasons when down 10+ w/ 8 min left: 10-616 pic.twitter.com/NTGiEQsXHG— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) December 19, 2017
THIS NEW THIBS VERSION of the Wolves doesn’t always make sense, to put it mildly. Whatever should happen doesn’t seem to happen all that often. They can’t easily take care of the dreadful Phoenix Suns or the depleted Grizzlies but when history says they almost certainly will not comeback in a game like tonight, Butler and Crawford seemed to channel those words spoken to Sam Alipour of ESPN earlier this season.
The two teamed up to score the last 21 points for the Wolves on their way to an unlikely win. That included two clutch free throws by Butler with 2.5 seconds on the clock, with both MVP chants and “shh’s” as background noise at Target Center, to give them the one point lead before Damian Lillard’s three-point attempt fell short at the buzzer. (Teague stayed down on his feet this time around.)
The infamous “Lillard Time” didn’t strike on this night in Minneapolis, but the crunch time heroics of Jimmy G. Buckets made yet another appearance.
“Well, that’s Jimmy Butler right there,” said Thibodeau. “His last 15 games or so he’s just been off the charts. It’s the toughness that he brings every possession.”
Jimmy Butler is somewhere in there. i swear. pic.twitter.com/pQt5D9lvF2— Dan Favale (@danfavale) December 19, 2017
“What more can you say about the guy? He does it every single night,” Crawford said when asked about Butler’s outstanding all-around performance.
“I think that separates good players from the best players. They have the consistency to do it every single day. Two days ago the guy was laying right there on his back. Literally, he was laying there. You guys didn’t know that, but I’m telling you now. Yeah, I guess it’s breaking news, but the guy was laying there, and 48 hours later he puts us on his back and did an excellent job.”
NOTES & QUOTES
Butler hit four clutch free throws in the final minute. This was his fourth 30+ point game as a Wolf. “He is very effective,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “He scored in a variety of different ways. He had thirteen free throw attempts, 12 or 13 attempts. So he got to the line. He’s a very good player.”
Butler’s full postgame thread...with plenty of great quotes.
Jimmy Butler on the young Wolves pic.twitter.com/ky1cEguryf— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) December 19, 2017
Crawford (18,372 points) surpassed Julius Erving (18,364) on the NBA’s all-time scoring list for 65th place. He needs 10 more points to pass Tracy McGrady (18,381) for 64th. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists, including connecting on 3-6 from deep. Including tonight, the Wolves have had eight games decided by three points or less, improving to 4-4 in such situations.
C.J. McCollum recorded 20 points on 9-17 shooting. He killed the Wolves last year averaging 27.5 ppg in four games, including a career-high 43 points on Jan. 1, 2017 at Target Center. Lillard had 17 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Fun fact that I never knew before tonight: Dame has never had a triple-double.
Lillard on the frustrating part of the loss:
“Can’t buy a damn foul call, so that’s the most frustrating part.” On what he saw happened in the fourth quarter: “I mean we had too many turnovers, those plays kill you. And the team was trying to make a run and we had a lead. I think on our part that was the main thing is the turnovers. When you get away without a lot of [foul calls], maybe [turnovers] get cut in half. You know, you’re not allowed to grab and all that stuff, half of those [turnovers] may not happen. But, we just have to be stronger with the ball and make smarter plays.”
Ed Davis on the free throw discrepancy:
“I need my money. I’ve got nothing to say about that. I just go out there and play, I don’t really get involved in the fouls and all that. But, 21-to- 5 is very alarming to say the least. It is what it is, the game is over and we’re on to the next one.” Jusuf Nurkic finished with 20 points and seven rebounds. Portland should have run more pick-and-rolls with Lillard and Nurkic. The Wolves could not stop that action throughout the night.
Stotts on Crawford’s excellent play:
“He’s an amazing player, an amazing scorer. That three-pointer he hit from 40-feet, that was a great defensive possession by us; and he’s been doing that for a long time. That play was probably a little bit of a turning point because it was such a good defensive possession and we end up with the ball, and you don’t know how it goes after that.”
Thibs on defending Portland:
“They’re very unselfish. They play well off each other. Nurkic is very skilled. The guy that gets lost with them, am I’m sure he doesn’t with the coach and his teammates, is Evan Turner. He makes a lot of big basketball plays. They’re a tough team. Their defense is vastly improved. They’re good, very good.”