After he showered and before he tugged on a vintage Mississippi State football jersey bearing Dak Prescott’s name, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler sung a few bars of the 1970 soul hit “O-o-h Child” to himself.
If the Wolves and their supporters need assurance this season that things indeed will get easier, Sunday’s 112-106 too-hard earned victory at Target Center over the depleted Los Angeles Clippers was it.
The Clippers played without four starters, including star Blake Griffin, and after Saturday afternoon’s 108-82 thumping in Dallas, started two players who are signed to two-way G-League contracts.
To beat them Sunday night, Butler played the fourth-quarter hero for the second time in the Wolves’ 14-10 season start.
They needed Butler not only to score 20 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, but in the game’s final 7 minutes, 8 seconds. He scored 20 of their final 24 points, only one a three-point shot.
“It was amazing, amazing,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Just seeing Jimmy Buckets get buckets, it was just amazing.”
By delivering so, Butler and the Wolves gave coach Tom Thibodeau his 300th career victory, a milestone Thibodeau’s players acknowledged when they applauded and congratulated him afterward.
Butler willed the Wolves to win by driving to the basket fearlessly and repeatedly. He made seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter and provided energy the Wolves lacked when they never led by more than seven points all night and trailed by three with fewer than eight minutes left.
It was such a feat Towns used that word “amazing” five times in 38 seconds during a postgame conversation with reporters.
“I was glad to have the popcorn right there and have the front-row seat for it because it was amazing,” said Towns, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds for his NBA-leading 19th double-double of the season. “I told him coming in that was, just, that was unbelievable. … It was just the degree of difficulty of all those shots. That shows you why he’s such an elite player in the league.”
The Wolves needed it all to beat the sharpshooting of the Clippers’ Austin Rivers and Lou Williams.
The Clippers resorted to starting rookie Jamil Wilson and former Wolves summer-camp invitee C.J. Williams, but Rivers made seven of his first eight three-point shots and scored 30 points. Williams, meanwhile, scored 23 off the bench, including the last of three three-pointers that brought his team within 110-106 with 31.3 seconds left.
In a FSN postgame interview, Butler said, “Sadly as it is, we just outscored them once again. A win is a win, but I want to play some defense one of these games.”
Afterward, Thibodeau lamented his team’s miscommunication and awareness on defense, but praised its adherence to the bottom line.
“It’s important for us just to find ways to win,” Thibodeau said, “and I told the players that.”
They did when Butler proved himself to be the closer the Wolves believed they had acquired on draft night.
Unknowingly riffing on the night’s theme, Clippers coach Doc Rivers down the hall said, “Jimmy Butler is Jimmy Butler and he put the cape on down the stretch.”
Afterward, Butler praised his teammates, saying, “It’s a great feeling when your teammates have that much confidence to call your number every time late.”
Even so, Butler also acknowledged once again his team’s lack of defense, saying it’s a matter of playing smarter rather than harder. He said it’s “not a lack of intensity” or effort.
“Like I said time and time again, we’ve got to start guarding somebody,” said Butler, blaming himself as well as his teammates. “It’s really bad and it’s really noticeable. Lucky enough if your shot is falling, you can still win. But goodness gracious, if it’s not, I’d hate to see which way this game could have went.”