He was being coy, of course.
But then, that’s what Jimmy Butler does.
Butler was talking after the Timberwolves shootaround Saturday morning. He was asked if he needed to be more aggressive for the Wolves to avoid falling behind 3-0 to Houston in their first-round NBA playoff series.
He wasn’t sure, he said.
Fast forward to Saturday evening, in front of an announced 18,798 fans in a rocking Target Center. See what Butler did, from start to finish. And you have your answer:
In the Wolves’ 121-105 victory, Butler scored 28 points, making 10 of 19 shots, including four of six three-pointers. He also had seven rebounds and five assists. He was a team-best plus-19. Butler got involved early, set the tone, prodded his teammates, played defense.
And now we have a series.
“It’s on everybody,” Butler said afterward, when asked if he felt it was his job to set an aggressive tone from the start of the game. But, he added: “I can tell you that, for the last couple days, I got tired of my teammates telling me to be more aggressive. I took it on myself to do just that.”
Butler had six shots and 11 points in Wednesday night’s Game 2 loss at Houston. He had eight shots by the end of the first quarter Saturday.
He had 11 points in the first quarter, 13 by the half. He scored seven in the third quarter. Then, while playing all but 37 seconds of the fourth quarter, Butler scored eight points with a steal and two assists.
And remember: Butler only recently returned from knee surgery. He is apparently playing with a sore wrist. Late in the second quarter, he apparently twisted an ankle.
We say apparently, because when asked about said injuries, his typical response is to say he doesn’t know what you’re talking about.
But nothing about his game was demure.
“I mean, for him to twist his ankle and continue to play?” asked Derrick Rose, Butler’s teammate here and with Chicago. “That shows you how much he wanted this. He’s the leader on this team. Our job is to follow him. He knows how intense these games are. C’mon now, he’s a superstar. I don’t need to brag on him. But Jimmy is Jimmy.”
After the game, the first thing Butler wanted to talk about was the team’s defense. Again the Wolves managed to hold the Rockets somewhat in check, holding Houston under 50 percent shooting overall and to 36.6 percent on three-pointers.
It was a team effort. But, again, Butler led the way. He was a very big reason that Rockets star and MVP candidate James Harden needed 21 shots to score 29 points.
And his knee, wrist and ankle? What are you talking about?
“It’s all mental,” Butler said. “At the end of the day, you tell your mind it doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t hurt. You play through it. This time of year everybody is nicked up.”
So say Butler’s performance Saturday was a mind-over-matter affair. The fact that it came when it mattered most? No surprise.
“He’s out there giving it his all,” Wolves guard Jeff Teague said. “He’s a hell of a player. He’s the heart and soul. When he’s out competing, it rubs off on everybody.”