NEW ORLEANS – Timberwolves veteran point guard Jeff Teague’s telling double-double performance in Monday’s 125-122 overtime victory at Miami apparently included thievery beyond the six steals for which statisticians credited him.
At least teammate Jimmy Butler said so.
“He stole my steals,” Butler said, feigning indignation. “He stole all of them. The six he had, I should have had.”
Butler is the Wolves’ most acclaimed two-way player who defends the opponent’s toughest perimeter players every night. But Monday, Teague’s steals as well as his 23 points and 11 assists allowed the Wolves to persevere on a night they seemingly had the game won more than once.
Fourteen of those points came in the fourth quarter and overtime. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau implored his team to increase its “hand activity,” and Teague obliged with his own for those six steals.
“We made a conscious effort to get our hands moving,” Teague said.
Teague is averaging 20 points, 8.6 assists and is shooting 47.6 percent from the field in the Wolves’ three road games. He has produced his only double-doubles of the season in the past two games by following Friday’s 17-point, 10-assist, six-turnover performance with Monday’s 23/11 night.
The Wolves also won both games on their way to a 4-3 October record that Teague and Butler both considered important because it was a winning month despite the small sample size and despite allowing 113 points or more in each of their past five games.
“We’re still growing as a team, still trying to figure each other out,” Teague said. “Me and KAT [Karl-Anthony Towns] are still trying to get on the same page with the pick-and-rolls. But we’re growing, and we’re going to continue to keep growing.”
Towns called Teague’s play Monday “amazing.” Teammates Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford each chose “great” instead.
Thibodeau opted for “terrific” instead.
As the team’s president of basketball operations as well, Thibodeau was the guy who traded fan favorite Ricky Rubio to Utah last summer and signed Teague with a three-year, $57 million contract to be his new starting point guard.
He did so because he wanted a point guard skilled in the pick-and-roll game who, with his quickness and speed, could dribble into the lane, break down the defense and either score at the rim or kick the ball out to an open shooter.
It didn’t hurt any, either, that Teague has led his team to the playoffs in each of his first eight NBA seasons.
All four of the Wolves’ victories have come by three or fewer points, including Monday’s three-point overtime victory. They’ve won those four games by a combined 11 points.
“He was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “Not only offensively, but the six steals. He had us organized. He and Wigs developed great chemistry down the stretch of the game. So strong, you could see it coming the last four games or so. He’s really starting to come on.”
Teague came on particularly after halftime Monday, when he scored seven of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and seven more in overtime. Those last seven were nearly half of the Wolves’ 15 points scored in overtime.
“He was missing some easy shots early that he usually makes, but he kept his cool, kept his composure,” Crawford said. “He still played the right way. He picked them apart. He made some big time shots and that’s what he does.”
Teague also delivered those six steals, no matter to whom they really belong.
“The way Jimmy tells it, I took some of his steals,” Teague said.
In the end, Butler sounded like a man willing to share.
“It’s all good, man,” Butler said with a mostly straight face. “I’m a great teammate, so I guess he can have them.”