INDIANAPOLIS – The Timberwolves rang out 2017 in Indianapolis by delivering an opening concussive punch in Sunday’s joyful 107-90 victory over the Pacers.
This time, they gave a second consecutive home crowd reason to boo. But unlike Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee, the Wolves never allowed a sellout Banker Life Fieldhouse audience pause to cheer, at least not until fans gratefully counted down aloud the game’s final seconds like they were at Times Square for the crystalline ball drop at midnight.
This time, the Wolves took a 17-0 lead while the Pacers committed four turnovers and missed their first 12 shots in the first six-plus minutes.
Unlike Thursday when they lost a 20-point third-quarter lead, the Wolves never allowed a Pacers team missing star guard Victor Oladipo to draw closer than five points before halftime and 10 points after it.
“We just wanted to close the year out the right way,” Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson said.
The Wolves led by 29 points at third quarter’s end, rested every starter except for Karl-Anthony Towns the entire fourth quarter and those players sitting bolted up and cheered Cole Aldrich’s two-handed dunk after coach Tom Thibodeau emptied his bench in the game’s final four minutes.
They also seemingly, inconceivably made even their demanding coach happy.
After the game, Thibodeau bear-hugged Towns’ mother in the hallway outside the team’s locker room and bobbed his head to star Jimmy Butler’s blaring Bluetooth speaker inside it.
“There you go,” Butler said. “We want everybody happy around here. When you win, it definitely puts a smile on everybody’s face, so let’s see how many wins we can stack up.”
Sunday’s victory was the Wolves’ sixth in their past seven games, their ninth in the past 12.
At 23-14, they remain fourth in the Western Conference, now three games ahead of fifth-place Oklahoma City, which lost at home Sunday to Dallas.
They did so Sunday with that opening burst in which Butler proved to be their pulse on his way to a 26-point, six-rebound, five-assist, three-steal night.
They also did so with Towns’ 18-point, 14-rebound double-double that included a career-tying six blocked shots — he had that many twice before, in his rookie season.
The Wolves’ defense held the Pacers to their lowest home scoring total this season. Their 13 first-quarter points and 38 first-half points were both lows for a quarter and a half this season.
Afterward, Gibson called both Towns’ activity and his team’s defense “phenomenal” and deemed replacement starting point guard Tyus Jones the game’s star for his defense.
“We played well from the jump,” Butler said. “But can we do it again and again? That’s our next progression.”
Consider the victory a payback of sorts from their first meeting with the Pacers back in October, when Butler didn’t play because he was ill and the Pacers won resoundingly, 130-107.
This time, Indiana played without Oladipo, its soon-to-be All Star, while the Wolves again went without starting point guard Jeff Teague.
The Pacers lost their fourth consecutive game, the past three without Oladipo, and they’re now 0-4 this season when he doesn’t play.
“It was like déjà vu,” Gibson said. “We didn’t have Jimmy when they beat us and now they lose Vic especially when they need him in this tough stretch for them. But in the NBA nobody’s going to feel sorry for you.”
No starter played more than Towns’ 38 minutes. Butler played just 27 minutes after he played between 41 and 43 the previous three games. He called the evening “all in all, a good win.”
“Playing is just a word,” Butler said. “I want to win. If we’re playing better with me not on the floor, I’m cool with being over there on the bench.
“I want my teammates to do great things. I want my team to do great things.
“As long as we’re winning, I promise you I’m happy.”