DENVER – The Timberwolves took the decisive final six minutes from Monday’s home victory over Portland and applied it defensively Wednesday night in Denver, where they used much of the same formula for a 112-104 victory to end the Nuggets’ eight-game winning streak at Pepsi Center.
As they did against the Trail Blazers, the Wolves rode veterans Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford down the stretch while young star Andrew Wiggins watched much of the fourth quarter.
On Monday, Butler scored 37 points with a hurting back to help beat the Blazers. Two nights later, he scored eight consecutive points for his team when it mattered most, with fewer than 90 seconds left.
Trailing 9-2 to start the game and by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, the Wolves rallied by using a 14-2 run triggered by the play of point guard Jeff Teague.
Trailing 84-80 after three quarters, Karl-Anthony Towns scored the Wolves’ first 11 fourth-quarter points on his way to a 25-point, 10-rebound night.
That set the stage first for Crawford to make shots and then for Butler to finish with a flourish against a Nuggets team missing injured Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Emmanuel Mudiay.
It didn’t hurt that the Nuggets committed 21 turnovers, 10 of them from star center Nikola Jokic, while the Wolves made only eight. Until Wednesday, the Nuggets were 11-2 at home.
“I don’t know if it’s anything we did other than he’s rounding into shape after his long layoff,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, referring to Jokic’s return three games ago after he missed seven because of a sprained ankle. “Tough win, on the road, against a good team.”
The Wolves used a 9-2 run that featured three-point shots by Butler and Crawford to turn a tied score into a 102-95 lead with four minutes left.
When the Nuggets pulled within two points twice — the last time 104-102 with 1:19 left — Butler scored those eight consecutive Wolves’ points. He started by getting to the free-throw line for two made shots, added a driving finger-roll layup, a 21-foot pullup shot and finished it with two final free throws.
His scoring carried the Wolves from a 102-100 lead into a 110-102 advantage with 30.6 seconds left.
Then Butler (25 points) added a game-ending steal for the final punctuation.
“You can’t say enough about the way Jimmy closes out,” Thibodeau said. “It’s just one big play after the next. Big shots, drawing the foul again, making the right plays. It’s tremendous. That’s who he is. That’s Jimmy Butler.”
If Thibodeau took Butler out of the game more often, you’d expect him sometime to raise his right arm and tap it, as if calling for the closer out of the bullpen when summoning Butler back to the game.
“I don’t even know if Jimmy knows what baseball is,” said Towns, a former baseball pitcher himself. “But he’s something special, man.”
On Wednesday, Butler’s closing ability brought the Wolves home to a 19-13 record after Teague, Towns, Crawford and others pushed them to the threshold. Crawford scored 20 points — eight in the fourth quarter while playing more than 28 minutes.
Afterward, Butler was asked if he considers winning time his time to take over.
“No, my teammates, they’ve got the utmost confidence in me to take and make shots, as of late,” Butler said. “But if I’m open and it’s my shot, I’m going to shoot it. If it’s not, I’m going to pass it. I have just as much faith in my teammates as I do myself. That’s part of the game: You take what the game gives you.”