MILWAUKEE – Been there and done that.
Timberwolves reserve point guard Tyus Jones will be moving back into a starter’s role for the second time this season.
In November, he started four games when starter Jeff Teague experienced soreness in his heel.
Now here in December, Jones moves back alongside Jimmy Butler and the other starters probably for at least the next two weeks while Teague heals from a strained MCL knee ligament sustained late in Wednesday’s overtime victory over Denver.
Jones calls himself “comfortable” over such a development.
“Just because it’s not the first time now,” he said. “It’s something I’ve done, something we’ve gone through as a team. I’m just ready to go. My first-time experience, I learned it was still just basketball. You’re in the game to start rather than coming in a few minutes into the game, but it’s just basketball at the end of the day.”
The difference: In an instant, he goes from playing between 10 and 16 minutes a night to more likely around 40 against Indiana.
On Thursday against Milwaukee, he played 35 minutes and left for nearly 2½ minutes late in the game while he returned to the locker room to get a dislocated left pinkie finger put back in place. Third-string point guard Aaron Brooks played 3½ minutes in the second quarter and then not again after he was unavailable for Wednesday’s game because he was ill.
“The biggest difference is physical, just playing more minutes,” Jones said. “The first time, I was a little more sore the next morning. The more minutes you play, the more you get used to it.”
Jones’ dislocated finger was one of what Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau called “moving parts” partly responsible for a 102-96 loss that came after the Wolves led by 20 points in the third quarter.
Andrew Wiggins’ sprained ankle sustained midway through the third quarter — he returned late in the quarter and played the entire fourth quarter — was another on a night when the Bucks erased the Wolves’ 74-54 lead with a 36-16 run and a lopsided 27-12 fourth quarter.
Thibodeau brought in veteran guard Jamal Crawford when Jones came to the bench clutching his left hand with five minutes left and the score tied at 90. The Wolves trailed by two points when Jones returned to the game with 2:25 left.
The Bucks scored the next seven points for a 102-93 lead before Butler made a three-point heave at the buzzer.
“It’s the first time it has ever happened to me,” Jones said after the game, his pinkie finger wrapped in ice. “They put it back in place. I’ll be all right. It’s tough when you’re a competitor. You don’t want to leave the court, especially at that part of the game. But I was able to get back out there. I’ll be all right.”
Thibodeau paired Butler and Crawford together frequently Thursday, often with Butler handling the ball and Crawford, as well as Jones, playing off the ball.
“We ask Jimmy to do a lot, and he does a lot for this team,” Jones said. “We do need to help out a little bit more. We’re going to follow his lead. He’s the leader of this team, and we’re going to follow his lead. He wants the ball in crunch time, and he’s proven why we continue to go to him.”
Afterward, Thibodeau second-guessed himself for not involving Butler — the team’s fourth-quarter difference throughout a five-game winning streak that ended Thursday — more.
“We probably should have the ball in his hands,” said Thibodeau, whose team played its third game in four nights and consecutively after winning in overtime the night before. “Part of it is I didn’t know where we were with Tyus. Usually you can fix those things on the bench. They couldn’t get that straightened out. I didn’t know if he was coming back or not. There was a lot of stuff going on there.”
The Wolves called Teague out “indefinitely” after an MRI done Thursday morning revealed a Grade 1 MCL sprain, the mildest of three grade levels. Golden State’s Stephen Curry was diagnosed with the same injury in the 2016 playoffs and missed about two weeks.
Thibodeau said the Wolves will respond with Jones starting and playing more but also with the ball in Butler’s hands more.
“The challenge will be defensively,” Thibodeau said when asked about Jones’ return to starter. “You’re going against starters. You don’t replace a guy like Jeff with one guy. You have to do it with your team. Everybody is different. Tyus has different strengths than Jeff, and Jeff is one of the best point guards in the league. You’re not going to replace him with one guy.”