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Wolves 113, Grizzlies 94: Jimmy Butler Leads the Wolves to a Crucial Victory

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As the season winds down, the Wolves are in desperation mode.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

As the first quarter buzzer drowned out a hopeful Target Center crowd, the scoreboard read 26-20 in favor of the visiting Memphis Grizzlies. An inability by Wolves starters to connect on seemingly rudimentary shot-attempts gave the no-name Grizzies a reason to believe they could topple a team with so much at stake.

But as they reconvened for a critical second quarter, Jimmy Butler injected the Wolves with an energy that inspired their play for the remainder of a desperately needed, 113-94 victory. He took the game into his own, tenacious hands, doing a little bit of everything to help his team recapture the lead. It was a stretch of play that served as a friendly reminder as to why we mentioned his name in the MVP conversation through much of the season.

After the Grizzliess extended their lead to nine as the second quarter commenced, Butler sliced through their defense and forced his way to the line. He made just one of two free throws, but assisted on a Derrick Rose three-point shot the just seconds later. He created a layup for himself and another for Karl-Anthony Towns in the ensuing minute and change, forcing J.B. Bickerstaff to take a timeout with the Wolves back within three. As they huddled up in search of a game plan, Butler barked at his embattled teammates in a fit of desperation. To Butler, the only thing that matters is effort. His urgency instilled a level of grit that the Wolves embraced the rest of the way.

After the timeout, the Wolves piled on seven straight - three from Butler - to take a 41-37 lead. A 15-0 run gave them their first advantage since it was 14-12 with 4:36 to play in the first, and Butler sat down for a well-deserved break. The rest of the way, there were spurts of good and bad, but they never relinquished the lead that their all-NBA wing delivered.

Butler’s infectious desire to battle on every possession — exhibited during that stretch in the second quarter — was sorely missed during a number of disappointing losses while he was sidelined, and it’s what the Wolves will rely on for as long as this season lasts. Tonight, it carried them to victory. Butler finished with 15 points, two rebounds, three assists and three steals; he was a +21 while on the court.

Along with Butler, Towns compiled a run-of-the-mill 24 points, 18 rebounds and two assists. A game high +27, Towns was masterful on offense, scoring on 10 of his 13 shot attempts. Not one player suited for the Grizzlies stood a chance to stop the seven footer, so they resorted to sending a double-team almost every time he touched the ball. As a result, Jeff Teague was left with favorable match-ups for much of the evening. He took advantage and piled up 24 points, four rebounds, eight assists and three steals.

Elsewhere around the heated Western Conference, there was much for Wolves fans to monitor.

The Miami Heat were of little help, falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 115-93. The Heat carried a 81-76 lead into the fourth but were outscored 39-12 in the final frame. The Wolves will now root for the Grizzlies to beat the Thunder on the season’s final night. That, combined with a Wolves win over the Denver Nuggets, is their only hope of passing OKC.

Meanwhile, the Spurs outlasted the Sacrament Kings, 98-95 in San Antonio. And counter intuitively, that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the Nuggets came back from a double-digit deficit and beat the Blazers in Denver, meaning Wednesday night is for a playoff spot. The Wolves have gotten precious little help over the last few days, but they should not have needed it. Now they have to beat the Nuggets to get into the playoffs, or the drought continues.

Game notes:

  • Taj Gibson exited tonight’s game in the first quarter and was held out for the remainder with a sore neck. When asked about Gibson’s status after the game, Thibs had little to offer: “I haven’t heard yet.”
  • Andrew Wiggins continued an ice cold stretch. He finished with seven points, six rebounds and one assist in 36 minutes. While he did play solid defense, he was just 3-12 from the field (0-3 from beyond the arc). He’s now scored over 20 points just once in the last nine games, and has been under ten three times in that stretch.
  • The Wolves bench unit was key to tonight’s victory. Gorgui Dieng’s tenacity, Nemanja Bjelica’s spacing, Derrick Rose’s flashy play, and Tyus Jones’ smarts all kept the Wolves in the game when things could have gotten out of hand.