MINNEAPOLIS — To boo, or not to boo: that was the immediate question facing most Wolves’ fans in the building for the season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
Disgruntled star Jimmy Butler indeed got an earful during player introductions, as did his biggest supporter, who happens to be both president of basketball operations and head coach. Tom Thibodeau was showered with the loudest boos of the night before tip-off. (Kevin Love might want to send both guys a fruit basket for helping him slide through the night basically untouched only a year after drawing massive jeers.)
While the home opener is always the perfect time to feel overly optimistic about the season ahead, the way the night began says more than enough about the current state of the franchise. The fan base obviously isn’t happy and who can really blame them given the ridiculous drama of the past month. It’s actually easy to get confused these days. Is this basketball or a daytime soap opera? The only thing that seems to be clear is that chaos and confusion will linger throughout the season.
As for the game—you know, the reason most of us watch hoops—Butler was initially booed every time he touched the ball. That was expected, though the discontent lasted only a handful of possessions before the crowd started slowly opting out of that arrangement. Soon enough, the boos shifted to booming cheers before eventually turning into MVP chants later in the night.
Butler started to strut his All-Star stuff alongside the bench mob in the second quarter after a somewhat slow start that saw the Wolves leading 32-30 after the first. A lineup of Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver, Gorgui Dieng and Butler provided a huge spark, and the Wolves took full control of the game before heading into halftime up 71-54.
The third quarter was a whistle-happy affair that brought (gulp) 33 total free throws. “Let ‘em [redacted] play,” I thought to myself. Cleveland dropped 41 points to cut the deficit from 17 points to 9. The final quarter was back and forth, remaining up for grabs until Butler nailed the 22-foot pull-up jumper with 24.5 seconds left. The bucket gave the Wolves the 123-129 lead. Towns then blocked his fourth shot of the night the next possession, swatting Kevin Love’s 2-foot layup, which also hit off the Old Wolf out of bounds, to seal the game.
3. After laying a 3-12 dud in San Antonio, Derrick Rose played within himself and his current capabilities in what was arguably his best performance in Minnesota. He played the role of a smart facilitator and transition dynamo rather than trying to score, and this was exactly the performance the Wolves need from him given his cemented role as the two-guard off the bench (+20). Rather than being the maddeningly inefficient shot-happy Rose, who often drives aimlessly to the rim without a real solid plan, this was the ideal version. Final line: 12 points (3-6 from the field and 6-6 from the line), 8 assists, four rebounds, and zero turnovers. He took it to the Cavs, quite simply. His decision-making was excellent. It’s clear that his biggest skill is putting pressure on the opposition in the open court after defensive stops.
2. Our old friend Kevin Love looked to be in incredible shape and played a lot like Minnesota Love. The speculation over the summer seems to be true in that Cleveland is going to run a ton of offense through him on the elbows and in the post. They’re going to feed him the rock all day without LeBron in the fold. 25 points, 19 rebounds, and seven assists later ... well, I was quite impressed and even wondered to myself whether or not the Cavs should eventually trade him for draft picks and young players, basically trying to bottom out instead of chasing 30ish wins. My advice for those who play fantasy basketball: trade for Love asap. The #NUMBERS are going to be huge this season on what appears to be a terrible Cavs team. (23-year-old forward Cedi Osman looked like their second best player.)
1. Jimmy Butler must have been inspired by the boos he received early on. His 33 points were the second-most by a Wolves’ player in a home opener (Garnett, 11/11/99) and his 12 FGA matched the fewest shot attempts ever by a Wolves player in a 30+ point game (12-12 from the free throw line obviously helps!). Butler was everything and more, even with the trade request cloud that lingers over the season. He added seven rebounds, three assists, four steals, and two blocks to his stat line. His trade value must have increased, right? Listen up, Pat Riley, Jimmy’s True Shooting Percentage was 95.5% tonight. Where else are you going to find a guy capable of this? (I remain convinced Thibodeau will never agree to trade Butler, so it’s up to GM Scott Layden and Owner Glen Taylor to step in here if they actually want to move him this season like they’ve told him they will do.)
On the win over the Cavs:
“I just mentioned this to the team, I thought we did a lot of really good things to build the lead. In this league, if you let your guard down just a little bit they make up ground quickly, and they did. The way they can shoot threes ... once it’s back within 10, you’re fighting for your life again. I thought we made some tough plays down the stretch. The important thing is getting the win, continuing to improve, and get ready for the next game [tomorrow night in Dallas].”
On Butler’s performance:
“It’s unbelievable all the things that he does; getting to the free throw line, making big shots, coming up with the steal that he had. It was an unbelievable play, great anticipation. He read the play great. That’s the difference between winning and losing right there.”
On Rose’s passing tonight:
“He’s playing the two. That’s what I like about having those guys in there together, Tyus (Jones) and Derrick (Rose). Derrick played really well with the starters, too. Derrick is a terrific talent. You can see it when he’s racing the ball up the floor. He can get the defense back on their heels and force people to collapse. People underestimate him at times. He’s a terrific talent.”
On Butler winning over the crowd:
“It’s the NBA. The important thing is to get the win. The one thing with fans, there’s going to be an appreciation for a guy who plays hard and puts forth the effort every play. I think there’s an appreciation for that.”
On playing with the second unit:
“I love playing with everybody, to tell you the truth. I think whenever you share the ball, get some stops, get down and get open on the floor it’s fun. I just like yelling ‘shoot it’ whenever Tyus Jones has the ball. I want him to score like 100 points one night, so when I’m out there with my guys I’m always going to tell them to shoot.”
On his position right now:
“I love it. I love it. Like I said earlier, I think people kind of love to hate me sometimes. Say whatever you want to say, but it really makes me smile, what people think about me. But no matter what, you gotta respect my effort. You may not like me, that’s okay, but as long as you know that my mind and my heart are in the right place, that I do everything to win and I would do anything for my guys. I am cool, boo me, hate me, just don’t throw nothing at me.”
On playing well given the circumstances:
“I just play basketball. I play hard. I play to win. That’s one thing that you can never say about me, that the guy does not play to win. Whatever you ask me to do, I will go out there and do it to the best of my ability. I think that’s how you play winning basketball, you play to win, you go out there and do that, and then you play to win. I am with them. In this locker room, we are one. I told them. I get pissed off sometimes, I’m not going to lie. I got pissed off tonight. All-in-all, my heart’s in it, my mind is in it, and I want to win.”
Butler had plenty to say after the game...
Part 1 of Jimmy Butler’s postgame interview. “It’s ok to boo me, I’m still gonna play hard.” pic.twitter.com/XfT25hlTQO— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) October 20, 2018
On the second quarter and its impact on the rest of the game:
“One thing I would say about that game is that last year we probably would have lost that game. Last year we had a couple games like that where we would keep our foot on the gas, and then let up late, before the finish line. But that’s a good team still. Everybody’s in the NBA for a reason, and I’m happy that we could close it out, go to our strong suits late. We got another one tomorrow, and that’s going to be even harder.”
On Rose’s spark off the bench:
“It was like he was floating out there. He looked great. He’s been in the gym. Thibs is working our guys out the right way. Everyone’s been putting extra work in. We still gotta sharpen up, but I thought it was a good look for him. He was pushing pace. It’s great when you have multiple guys you can get the ball out to and they can run the break.”
On how the game unfolded for him:
“The game was rolling, Jimmy was rolling, Jeff was rolling. It’s not about putting thirty up. That does equate to winning so I am very happy with today. I thought we played really well. I am a little disappointed that we gave up 123 points but all-in-all it’s about getting the ‘W’ and we did that tonight.”
On Rose bringing energy off the bench:
“I mean yeah, Derrick does what he does best. Playing fast and using his athleticism is what makes it so dangerous. So when Derrick is playing, we are a very hard team to guard.”
Jeff Teague wasn’t in the locker room tonight so I asked Towns about JT’s slam to ensure another chapter in the “Teague says he gave up dunking but still dunks” story! pic.twitter.com/IF4YbcGYEm— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) October 20, 2018
On feeling good coming off preseason:
“I mean it all comes from my teammates believing in me, going out there and playing the way I normally play and I’m just attacking and that’s what I feel like I’m doing. I felt healthy last year too, it’s just all about opportunity coming in and trying to get a feel for the team, get a feel for the league again. I was out of the league for a couple months, and just trying to get a rhythm.”
On playing well tonight:
“I’m not boasting and bragging but the confidence I have, the confidence that I’ve been playing with, has been overshadowed by opportunity and I think a lot of people mixed up, my confidence, with opportunity. I feel like I just didn’t have the opportunity to go out there and play the way I normally play, like guys are normally seeing me play thirty-seven minutes. I can’t do what I was going to do in thirty minutes, in six or seven minutes a lot of times.”
On his 11-points (3-7 from deep) performance:
“I mean, I’m a perfectionist. I feel like I should have made all the ones I missed, but it is what it is. You know teammates definitely looked at me more today and it’s up to me to finish it out.”
On how the Wolves played:
“We are just playing free. Obviously a lot of the guys scored a lot of points tonight. We scored a lot of points, we gave up a lot of points but scored a lot of points. You know the guys are trying to share the ball and get guys in the right positions and you know, just playing free. Just trying to enjoy the game and when we play like that we get good offense.”
Cavaliers Head Coach Tyronn Lue
His takeaways from the game:
“The same thing as last week. We need to get back in transition. I think against teams like Toronto and Minnesota, very good teams, you can’t dig yourself a hole like that and try to come back. It takes too much. We talked about it after the game. Let’s start that way. Let’s not dig a hole in the beginning and start playing harder and harder once we get down and get behind. I’m proud of the guys for continuing to keep fighting. I think Collin [Sexton] grew a little bit tonight having a chance to play in the fourth quarter, taking some big shots in big opportunities. (Jordan) Clarkson was great. Big Z (Ante Zizic) did a good job. Cedi (Osman), he’s been playing well. Young guys getting the chance to experience these types of things, but also understand we have to grow from it.”
On their play defensively:
“I thought defensively we did a good job of staying locked in and engaged and communicating, were very talkative. I mean yeah, you get one stop, one stop leads to another, it gets contagious. We were making plays. I thought defensively we had our times.”
On how he felt as a playmaker:
“I felt good. I have a lot to take away from this, as this being my first game. There were a lot of plays I wish I was more aggressive in, there were a lot that I wish I was a little bit more passive in. So, it is going to come with time. Knowing when to take good shots when to pass it. That’s part of being a playmaker.”
On having two straight losses:
“We start good every game and then the second quarter costs us too much. I really enjoy and can see that everyone really enjoys playing with each other, but the second quarter we have to learn how to play better defense. I’m going to say again about transition defense we gave up a lot of points in transition. But you know that is the small stuff, but very important. So, second game we lost, but it’s all good. We really enjoy playing with each other and it’s going to be a fun year for us. We’re a young team, we have a lot of things to learn, we’re going to just keep playing hard.”
On what was working for the team during the comeback in the second half:
“Everything starts with the defense. We start playing tough, we start denying. We push them to catch harder (passes) and then the offense was at a good pace. We were moving the ball, we found open shots, we made it, but everything starts with the defense.”
On the team having a strong start:
“I feel like when I came out, came in the game, I had to bring the energy. I feel like when me and JC (Jordan Clarkson) come in the game, we got to bring that spark and try to do what we can while we’re out there, until coach takes us back out. Coming in the game, I just wanted to pretty much do everything for my team, that’s the biggest part.”
On where he feels he had an advantage:
“I feel like on the defense end. I feel like me pressuring them, they didn’t feel like bringing the ball up the entire game and handed it off. Stuff like that. So, it was good for me to pressure them and get in the backcourt and take time off the clock.”
On how the team gives him confidence to stay aggressive:
“They just told me to keep going, keep attacking, use my abilities to score the ball as well as get teammates open and pretty much play my game.”
It doesn’t seem like change is coming anytime soon in regards to honoring Jimmy Butler’s trade request. A long winter of uncertainty is likely ahead of us. But I figure it’s probably best to (at least try to) embrace the chaos for now in hopes that this drama will lead to positive change across the entire organization down the line. Over the years, I have learned how unfair it is to tell people how they should feel about anything, and I won’t use this space to live in Wolf La La Land where everything is better than it actually is.
But I do like to be positive. At my core, I am an optimist. And while I am not naive to the fact that Tom Thibodeau has driven many loyalists off the cliff, I want to do my best to find the good in this trainwreck situation.
I love when Jeff Teague dunks and continues to troll the media about it like he’s allergic to the idea of even slamming one home. I enjoy watching Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng play well off the bench because I believe in them. I’m keeping a close eye on KAT’s defensive awareness and improvement in reading pick-and-rolls because he has all of the tools to perform on that end. I’m hoping and praying and wishing and dreaming that Andrew Wiggins will figure out what good shot selection actually is. I will applaud every Anthony Tolliver trey ball, nobody where he launches from or whatever the result is, because I appreciate the fact that the Wolves finally have a gunner from deep that will rip from anywhere.
I don’t want to stick my head in the stand and ignore all of the major issues that exist with this team. But even more so, I don’t want to be pissed off all season. I want to try to find some enjoyment in this mess and can only hope that desire is possible.