Jimmy Butler, back after four games nursing a sore right knee, was rather rusty but predictably intense. Karl-Anthony Towns couldn’t buy a call but cleaned the glass all night.
Andrew Wiggins continued to operate in attack mode.
In an effort that can best be called workmanlike, the Timberwolves got contributions from all over the roster in a 111-97 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night before an announced 16,231 at Target Center,
We’ve gotten to that point. The Wolves, who won for the 10th consecutive time at Target Center, are now winning games they are expected to win, at home, with sometimes little fanfare.
“We’re starting to build some mental toughness,” coach Tom Thibodeau said about his team, which led by as many as 26 early in the second quarter, by as few as five midway through the third. But that lead never disappeared.
For the sixth time this season, the Wolves (32-20) entered a game on a two-game losing streak but left it a winner.
It was a team effort. Butler’s shot wasn’t quite there, but he finished with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists. Both he and Tyus Jones had 11 points in the fourth quarter, as the Wolves were locking down the game, one that ended with Nets coach Kenny Atkinson having been ejected midway through the fourth quarter after having to be restrained from going after the officials.
Six Wolves scored in double figures, including two off the bench. Andrew Wiggins had 21 points. Towns had 16 points and 19 rebounds on a night when the officials didn’t send him to the free-throw line until the final minutes.
There were a few lapses, but the Wolves defense was there pretty much from start to finish, turning 16 Brooklyn turnovers into 24 points.
“Defense is what wins this game,” said Towns, who had three blocks and a steal to go with his 10 offensive rebounds. “We did a good job playing defense.”
It shows. With Butler back, the Wolves defense, a bit shaky in losses at Portland and Golden State, toughened up. If one key to a successful season is avoiding long losing streaks, the Wolves appear to have gotten that one down.
“I like that,” Butler said. “I like that a lot. Nobody wants to lose, or to lose two in a row. You sure don’t want to lose three.”
The Nets (18-32) — who got 21 points from Jahlil Okafor, 15 from Nik Stauskas and 12 from DeMarre Carroll — played hard to the finish. Down big early, they pulled within 58-53 on Spencer Dinwiddie’s third-quarter layup.
But the Wolves responded with a 14-2 run. Wiggins had six points in that span. Towns had eight, with four baskets coming off offensive rebounds. The Wolves weren’t seriously threatened again.
The impact of Butler’s return was clear.
“Just the intensity is so much different,” Thibodeau said. “His first game back, I thought he made a lot of big plays. When the game was in the balance he made big play after big play.”
He wasn’t alone. Wiggins and Towns led the third-quarter charge. And Jones — who played the entire fourth quarter both because he was playing well and because Jeff Teague’s ankle was a bit sore — went point-for-point with Butler in the fourth.
Jamal Crawford scored 16 points off the bench. Taj Gibson finished with 14 on 7-for-14 shooting.
Once again, threatened with a longer losing streak, the Wolves responded.
“It’s a sense of maturity,” Towns said. “It’s understanding the situation, wanting to stop the bleeding early. It’s discipline on our part.”