The Timberwolves know what an elimination game feels, smells and looks like. Just two weeks ago, they beat Denver in overtime on the regular season’s final day to reach the playoffs while the Nuggets went home for the summer.
But that was then, this is now.
Now the Wolves trail Houston 3-1 in a best-of-seven, first-round playoff series with Game 5 set for tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Toyota Center.
“Totally different environment, situation,” Wolves All-Star guard Jimmy Butler said after the team’s shootaround today. “We just have to go out and play basketball. Down 3-1, whatever you want to call it, our back against the walls, still if we do what we’re supposed to do – contest their shots, rebound and we score as well, we can win this game.”
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau preached to his players – and the media, too – all season and advised them never to look ahead or behind, but always stay in the present.
Never will they need to heed that more than tonight, when they’re faced with the daunting prospect of beating a 65-victory Rockets team three times consecutively to advance to the second round.
Only 11 teams in NBA teams have done that, most recently by Cleveland in the 2016 NBA Finals against Golden State.
“That’s why you try to build that habit all year,” Thibodeau said. “Not to get ahead of yourself, not to get behind, but to concentrate exactly on what’s in front of you. You can’t allow other people to tell you what you think. It’s what you think and what you believe. That’s how you get through these type of things. You go play-by-play, quarter-by-quarter. Once you realize that, it makes things do-able.
“That’s what we have to have. We have to have a belief, that we can do it. We have to have an intensity that we can do and we can get it done.”
Also at shoot, starting point guard Jeff Teague participated after he dislocated his pinkie finger in Monday’s lopsided Game 5 loss, but returned to the game after he popped in back into place. He went 1-for-7 from the field in 28 minutes that night after a 23-point performance in a resounding Game 3 victory.
Thibodeau said he expects Teague will play as usual and called the dislocation, “a weird sort of thing. That hurt him some, but he’s fine today.”
Thibodeau also said he is hopeful backup point guard Tyus Jones will play after he missed Game 4 because of a sore knee. Jones participated in shoot today. He did on Monday, too, even with the sore knee, but Jones couldn’t get the knee “loose” enough before the game to play, Thibodeau said.
“I think he’s feeling better,” Thibodeau said. “He will go through warmup tonight. Hopefully, he’ll be available.”