The two main takeaways from tonight are:
- Jimmy Butler is really good at Basketball
- I am really happy the Wolves do not play the Phoenix Suns again this season
The Wolves convincingly were beating the Phoenix Suns for most of this game, particularly in the first half. At halftime, the Wolves were leading 64-43. The team was playing well and the offensive load was quite egalitarian, with most of the Wolves shooting a high percentage.
Then the third quarter came along and the Wolves were outscored 37-22. It’s hard to say exactly what happened. The Suns came out playing harder and were looking to push the pace. Troy Daniels made a bunch of threes (he finished the game 6-12 of deep!). The Wolves simply looked lackadaisical out there, unconcerned with the Suns’ onslaught.
However, there was one Timberwolves player who decided in the fourth quarter that the Wolves were not going to let another game slip away to the Suns. Jimmy Butler was here to win.
Butler was simply a terror on the floor this game. He ended up with 32 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, while shooting 10-19 from the floor and 12-13 from the free throw line. There were quite a few possessions on offense where the Wolves looked to be going nowhere and Butler just made a play.
It is truly astounding how casual Butler can make playing basketball look. Whether it is jumping in passing lanes on defense, holding in the air to make a tough layup, or simply rising up over a smaller player and making a bank shot, Butler seems to make the act of playing Basketball effortless at times.
Of course, we know that sentiment cannot be farther from the truth. That ease of Butler is only born out of practice and rote. He simply works harder to make what he does possible.
The bench was the other big story of the night. Although they only played their usual limited minutes, each bench player was above +10 in the plus-minus category. This was one of the few games where the Wolves bench “won” their matchup. Particularly helpful was an early stretch in the fourth quarter, when the lineup of Jamal Crawford, Tyus Jones, Jimmy Butler, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns was able to bounce back from the rough third quarter and put some distance between themselves and the Suns.
Gorgui Dieng, in particular, had a great game and he got the most minutes, 23, out of anyone on the bench. Dieng has been in a bit of a funk lately, understandably so as he is still trying to figure out his drastically different role on this team. It was great to see him out there blocking shots, scoring a few buckets, and grabbing a bunch of rebounds. He had a few nice passes as well, including one great post feed to Towns where KAT was being fronted and Dieng lobbed it over the top.
Overall, this was another game that was inordinately stressful at times. The Suns just kind of hung around throughout the second half and in light of this season’s games against the Suns, the game never truly felt safe. The Wolves showed that they were the better team throughout the game, as they very well should have considering the state of the Suns’ roster. However, without the efforts of Jimmy Butler, I’m not sure this is a game that would have won.
But that is the thing about this Wolves team. Even though it may be ugly at times, they do have Jimmy Butler and they are going to win these games. It helps to have the superstar.
A few notes:
- Andrew Wiggins broke out of his shooting slump tonight, making 8-17 from the floor and scoring 17 points. However, he still took quite a few ill-advised long twos and had trouble with TJ Warren on the other end of the court. He also was not attacking as much as he could have on offense
- Jeff Teague had a great first half, making a variety of floaters and scoring around the rim, and ended up with a nice stat line of 12 points, 7 boards, and 6 assists (albeit with 5 turnovers).
- Taj Gibson was his usual self, solid and dependable, with an important late bucket off a Jimmy Butler miss.
- Karl-Anthony Towns had a fairly good game, ending with 16 points and 14 boards, and while he had a quieter game than usual, he had a couple key plays in the fourth quarter, namely a huge block and defensive rebound that ended two important possessions.
- Josh Jackson had a few herky-jerky drivers where I was unsure if he was going to miss the hoop entirely or score. More of them went in than not, and he did have a few impressive finishes over Butler, but I would not call the rookie’s game “smooth.”
- The Suns only made 46.5 percent of their shots from the field tonight. I feel like, sadly, that may be one of the lowest marks a team has shot against the Wolves this season.
The Wolves are now 20-13 heading into the Christmas Day matchup with the Lakers. The journey may not be like how we imagined it, but the end result is good. At the very least, the Wolves do not have to play the Suns again.