Jimmy Butler heard the boos, but swears he doesn’t understand them. He heard the cheers, too. But not the chants of MVP.
He was busy winning Friday’s game. Not once, but twice. Three times maybe.
Amid the lasers and smoke machines that go with the spectacle of home-opener introductions, the 18,978 fans at Target Center booed Butler. Loudly. Slightly more than coach Tom Thibodeau, with former Wolves player Kevin Love, in town with visiting Cleveland, a distant third.
Along with the pomp, the circumstances surrounding Butler’s desire for a trade made the boos expected, though Butler said later none of the media or fans knows the whole story.
But all it took was a first-quarter steal to stop the booing. All it took was 33 points in 36 minutes, 10-for-12 shooting, seven rebounds and two steals to have the fans standing, applauding and chanting MVP after the Wolves had defeated Cleveland 131-123.
“I knew it was going to happen,’’ said Butler, who spent the night shooting daggers or flashing a Cheshire smile that suggest he knows more than he’s letting on. “I knew they were going to switch up on me. It’s part of it. I think there’s probably some more boos to come one of these days.’’
Interpret that last part as you will.
Playing a lot with the second unit, Butler had 10 points in the Wolves’ splendid 39-point second quarter, which ended with Minnesota — down nine in the first quarter — up 17 at the half.
When Cleveland got within four, Butler hit two free throws with 3:20 left, then he had the play of the game: tipping a pass, which led to Taj Gibson’s fast break.
“That play was an unbelievable play,’’ Thibodeau said. “Great anticipation. That’s the difference between winning and losing right there.’’
In the process the boos that followed his ever touch of the ball went to cheers, to chants, to standing ovations.
Fickle? Perhaps. But, much like last week, Butler said bring it on.
“I’m telling you I love it,’’ he said. “I love it. Like I said earlier, I think people kind of love to hate me sometimes. Say what you want to say, but it really makes me smile.”
While scoring the most points ever in a home opener the Wolves got it from just about everywhere. Andrew Wiggins scored 22, Gibson 13, Karl-Anthony Towns and Derrick Rose 12 each. The bench scored 41 points.
But without Butler all that wouldn’t have been enough to stop a Cavs team that got 25 points from Love and 22 from Cedi Osman.
And everybody who watched the game knows that.
Gibson said he’d never seen a crowd go from boos to cheers so quickly.
“Today was a first,’’ he said. “But like I said, the crowd likes a winner. At the end of the day, you just have to shut up and play. He let his game talk for him and those boos turned around. It was weird.’’
If his game talked for him on the floor, it was just as interesting off it. Butler said he doesn’t understand why he’s being painted as the bad guy, questioning reports detailing his situation with the team. But he didn’t say more.
“You’re allowed to dislike me, but you can’t say I’m a bad person and I don’t play to win,’’ Butler said. “That’s all that matters. You all don’t get the juicy parts of the story. The part you do get, you all do a great job of making me seem like the bad guy, by the way. But it is what it is.’’
He was a bad man on the court Friday. That much is indisputable.