Well, now, some clarity.
The Timberwolves’ path to the playoffs, finally, is simple, if not easy. Despite their 113-94 win over Memphis on Monday night at Target Center, the Wolves will play host to Denver on Wednesday night with the winner going to the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs, the losers going home.
“A win can control our own destiny,” Jimmy Butler said. “We’ve got a game on Wednesday anyway. No matter what, we’re going in there to win.”
Those comments came after the Wolves had survived a horrid start to Monday’s game — falling behind a team that dressed only nine players — to come back strong, outscoring the Grizzlies 57-41 in the second half.
“We’ve been through this before,” said Taj Gibson, referring to the 2009-10 Chicago Bulls team he and Derrick Rose were on, that had to win their final game to qualify for the playoffs. Gibson watched the final 32 minutes of Monday’s game from the locker room, leaving with a sore neck that might make his status for Wednesday questionable. “It all comes down to knowing your opponent and wanting it even more. Understanding the last game with Denver didn’t sit right with us.”
Butler was in this situation in Chicago last year, too, needing a win in to qualify.
It was a strange locker room Monday. There was happiness over the victory, but no certainty about their playoff fate; yells and shouts could be heard coming from the coaches’ locker room as the Denver-Portland game went to the wire.
Ultimately, it is a Wednesday play-in game, and a chance for the Wolves to avenge last Thursday’s 100-96 loss at Denver, the last game the Wolves played without the injured Butler. A victory Wednesday would mean the Wolves’ first playoff appearance since 2004.
“I just want to clinch it,” coach Tom Thibodeau said immediately after the game. “Tonight, Wednesday, whenever it is. Just get it done. We talked about finishing. That’s been our thing. Just finish. And whatever way we have to get there, let’s get there.”
The Wolves didn’t start well Monday, but they did finish. They shot just 8-for-26 with four turnovers in the first quarter, during which they trailed by as many as 10. Still down 10 in the second quarter, the Wolves used a 15-0 run — led by Karl-Anthony Towns’ eight points — to take the lead. They were up three at the half, up eight after three and pulled away in the fourth.
“We were just playing soft,” said Butler of the slow start. “We tend to do that from time to time. Whenever we play hard, good things happen.”
The Wolves played harder as the game went on. With Towns in early foul trouble, and without Gibson, Gorgui Dieng came off the bench for 11 points and six rebounds. Playing a season-high 21:49, Rose was wonderful as part of a small lineup that Thibodeau used at times. He scored 13 points, provided the energy that lit the team’s fire. Towns had 24 points and 18 rebounds. Jeff Teague had 24 points and eight assists. Playing only 23 minutes, Butler had 15 points.
Memphis was led by Ben McLemore’s 18 points. Dillon Brooks had 15.
And then the Wolves waited.
Turns out one more victory will be needed.
“Don’t nobody like losing,” Butler said. “Nobody in this locker room does at least. I think this city deserves to be in the playoffs. We’re the only ones who control that. … If we win this game Wednesday, I think that puts us in the playoffs, right? So that’s what we’ve got to do.”