HOUSTON – Down 3-1 in their playoff series against Houston after Monday’s Game 4 shellacking, the Timberwolves played their second elimination game in two weeks Wednesday that tested just how much they have — or haven’t — grown this season.
They beat Denver in overtime on the regular season’s final day, advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and sending the Nuggets home for the summer.
On Wednesday, the Wolves faced a challenge four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler called a “totally different environment and situation.”
It was Game 5 of a best-of-seven series against the Rockets, the NBA playoffs’ No. 1 seed after a 65-17 regular-season record, and Houston defeated the Wolves 122-104 to win the series 4-1.
“We’ve grown a lot from the beginning to now,” Wolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns said before the game. “It’s amazing how we started, how much more disciplined, mature we are. We understand each other more. We have to use all that experience we garnered this year for this game, going back home and coming back here if we expect to win this series.”
Wanted and winning
Butler’s possible return to the Chicago Bulls after he can become a free agent in summer 2019 was the subject of speculation in a Chicago Sun-Times story Tuesday.
In a Monday interview with the newspaper, Butler sounded like a man who doesn’t understand why his younger teammates aren’t driven to win or improve like he is. Eligible to sign a contract extension with the Wolves as early as this summer, Butler said his long-term future will be based upon “being wanted and winning.”
“Young guys in this league don’t understand urgency,” Butler told the paper. “These guys don’t understand that you never know what the league brings, the times may bring. I think they do understand what it takes to win here and they continue to learn that. Decisions I make, the money, my contract, all of that will handle itself.
“I don’t ever worry about my money. I already have enough money for the rest of my life. It’s all about winning.”
Meek is free
At February’s Super Bowl, Towns wore a Philadelphia Eagles jersey on which the message “Free Meek Mill” was stitched. On Wednesday, he was pleased the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the 30-year-old rapper’s immediate released from prison a day earlier.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and rapper Jay-Z all supported his release from what they considered an unjust two-to-four-year sentence in November for a probation violation from a 2009 gun and drug case.
So, too, did Towns, in his own way.
“It was cool,” Towns said. “I thought he deserved to be home. He has been through a lot. I’m happy he’s getting some right done to his life. He deserves it. … I’m just happy he’s home and he’s seeing outside.”
Unlike any other
Back from a sprained ankle for a third consecutive game, forward Ryan Anderson fairly marvels at playing for the Rockets, so unlike the other teams — New Jersey, Orlando and New Orleans — he’s played on in his 10-year career.
“I’ve never played on a team like that,” said Anderson, after the Rockets scored a near-record 50 points against the Wolves in Game 4’s third quarter. “We can flip a switch on, it’s pretty unbelievable. It just shows we are in control. If we play our best basketball, we know we’re going to win the game. We just have so many weapons and so many ways we can score and defend.”
Anderson, normally a Wolves nemesis who had 12 points on 4-for-6 three-point shooting in Game 3, had just five points in 10 minutes on Wednesday night and finished with just 17 in the three games he played.
• Wolves point guard Jeff Teague started as usual after he dislocated his pinkie finger in Game 4, popped it back in place and played on after a brief stop in the locker room. Thibodeau called the dislocation “a weird sort of thing” and added “that hurt him some, but he’s fine [Wednesday].” Teague finished with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting with seven assists and four rebounds Wednesday night.
• Reserve point guard Tyus Jones played 11 scoreless minutes after missing Game 4 because of a sore knee.
• Taj Gibson had a strong first half after being mostly quiet during the series while being bothered by a sore neck. Gibson finished with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 23 minutes, but had only two rebounds.
• Andrew Wiggins, who had a strong first three games of the series, had a second consecutive 5-for-14 shooting night and finished with 14 points and four rebounds.
• Jamal Crawford came off the bench and scored 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting in 26 minutes, but Derek Rose was the only other Wolves reserve to score (12). Nemanja Bjelica, one of the Wolves’ best three-point shooters, played only three minutes and was scoreless.