HOUSTON – The Timberwolves lost their four-time All-Star and the game in Friday night’s third quarter.
Jimmy Butler suffered a right knee injury late in a 120-102 loss to the Rockets. He was helped off the court by two teammates and will have a magnetic resonance imaging exam done Saturday in the Twin Cities to determine the injury’s severity.
“Until you do the MRI, you’re speculating,” Timberwolves coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau said in a very somber postgame scene both inside and outside the team’s Toyota Center locker room. “We’ll know tomorrow. … You’re just hopeful it’s not bad.”
Butler was injured with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter after he wrestled an offensive rebound away from Houston center Nene, who appeared to fall into Butler’s leg after Butler pulled the ball away. When Butler stepped to get around Ryan Anderson so he could shovel a pass to Taj Gibson, he planted his right foot and collapsed to the court in pain.
Jimmy Butler collapsed to the floor after getting a rebound and clutched his right knee twitter.com/NBATV/status/9…— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 24, 2018
Thibodeau, teammates and Houston stars James Harden and Chris Paul surrounded and stood over him while he was down. Karl-Anthony Towns and Cole Aldrich eventually helped him to the Wolves locker room, and Harden visited there after the game to see him.
“I was very concerned,” Gibson said. “I’ve been with Jimmy my whole career. When he goes down, he doesn’t just go down for anything. You know it’s something serious, so I was just a little bit shaken up, just knowing how hard he plays.”
The league leader in minutes played when the night began, Butler had played 25 minutes before his injury. The Wolves trailed 79-68 at the time and the Rockets scored nine of the next 12 points.
The Wolves were outscored in a 33-21 third quarter from which they never recovered.
“Obviously, Jimmy is our guy,” guard Jamal Crawford said. “We play through him. We do so much. He’s at the center of just about everything we do. So losing him hurts.”
Teammates talked to Butler in their locker room, and Gibson described his longtime teammate as smiling and upbeat.
“You know Jimmy, his first reaction is he’ll be OK, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK,’ ” Gibson said. “Unless the MRI tells you a different story. Right now, we’re praying for the best and we have to see what the doctor says.
“But he was smiling. That was the big thing. That was a huge relief for everybody. He’s a warrior. We just have to hold it down for him.”
Players sat silently at their lockers after the game while Butler remained in a training room. He did not speak to reporters after the game.
Towns said he had no indication on the severity of Butler’s injury after walking him to the locker room and speaking with him after the game.
“I have no idea,” Towns said. “We’ve got to worry about [Saturday night’s game against Chicago]. We feel for our teammate obviously. Like our brother, this is a family, this is all we got. So obviously when he went down, make sure we keep pushing. I know he wants us to keep pushing and we got to get ready for tomorrow.”
Asked how concerned his teammates are that Butler might have torn a knee ligament and could be lost for the season, Crawford said: “We didn’t mention that, to be honest with you. We’re just hoping for the best. We don’t know anything yet beside the fact that he’s in pain. So hopefully we’ll get the best news soon.”
What if he is out for a significant amount of time with the Wolves trailing San Antonio by just percentage points for third place in the Western Conference?
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Crawford said. “I’m hoping he’ll be back soon.”
The Wolves were scheduled to fly home after Friday’s game and then play Chicago — the team from whom they acquired Butler last summer in a draft-night trade — Saturday night at Target Center.
“It’s part of it, it’s the NBA, it’s the unfortunate part,” Thibodeau said. “Injuries are part of it. The next guy has to get up and be ready and get the job done. That’s the way it is in this league. Every night is a challenge. You have to deal with your injuries. Being mentally tough when you face adversity is a big part of winning. You have to find a way to win.”