The term “winning ugly” seems to carry a negative connotation when used in the context of sports, particularly basketball. It’s as if it’s required to beat inferior opponents by 20 every time.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have struggled against inferior opponents recently, tallying several “bad” losses on their schedule. In the last three weeks, Minnesota has lost to the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls — three teams that had a combined record of 46-101 heading into their respective matchups with the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves were on the verge of adding another bad loss to the schedule Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings before a 36-26 fourth-quarter scoring advantage propelled Minnesota to a narrow victory.
Minnesota was flat for most of the game, handing over several careless turnovers and surrendering 22 points off turnovers to Sacramento. The Timberwolves have folded in these situations many times earlier in the season and fallen to inferior teams. Tonight, however, it appears as if the Wolves locked in when crunch time arrived. And it began with Jimmy Butler. He scored 11 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and provided the extra spark that vaulted the Wolves over the top.
Jamal Crawford, who scored 12 points off the bench in the win, told the media that Jimmy Butler “woke up.”
“He was asleep,” Crawford said. “When he wakes up … it just separates everything. He started making all the plays.” This included a strip of Zach Randolph and an excellent game of Twister to get critical steal in the fourth quarter.
Butler typically brings this type of energy for the entire game. For whatever reason tonight, however, it wasn’t there for the first three quarters and it appears as if it had a trickle-down effect on the team.
Thank goodness for Karl-Anthony Towns, though. He asserted himself for Minnesota’s offense while battling former college teammate Willie Cauley-Stein most of the night. Towns finished with 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting, most of which came against tough interior defenders Cauley-Stein or Kosta Koufos.
Minnesota stepped up when it needed to tonight after an ugly start, and that should be the key takeaway from this one. It’s definitely not the prettiest win and it certainly isn’t impressive for a team sitting near the top of the Western Conference.
But as head coach Tom Thibodeau points out, the Timberwolves were able to show up and win despite not playing well. That’s significant.
A win is a win.
- Andrew Wiggins made a few impressive hustle plays that need more attention. His eight rebounds is obviously higher than normal, but it was a chase down steal after a Jimmy Butler turnover that caught my eye. These are the kinds of plays that Wiggins rarely gets credit for, likely because of his laid-back personality.
- My favorite sequence of the night included another hustle play by Wiggins. Towns rushed down the floor to block a Fox layup. However, Justin Jackson was there for the rebound and had an easy layup waiting for him — except that Wiggins was right behind him to block THAT layup attempt.
Towns and Wiggins giving both Kings rookies a warm welcome to the league pic.twitter.com/N54wagcqfR— Drew Mahowald (@DrewMahowald) February 12, 2018
- De’Aaron Fox is blazing fast. Like, Russell Westbrook fast. He’s going to be a matchup problem for a long time.
- Minnesota’s home winning streak has reached 13 games, which is pretty freaking awesome. The Wolves haven’t lost at home since before Christmas. Derrick Rose was still on the Cavaliers then. Ah, those were the days.
- A much different team will need to show up on Tuesday if the Timberwolves want to beat the Rockets.