The Timberwolves weren’t subtle in their trolling of Jimmy Butler.
Before Saturday’s game the team’s official Twitter account sent out a message that said this was “the night we’ve been waiting all season for,” only to welcome back former center Justin Patton.
Then as they announced the 76ers’ starting lineup, Carly Simon’s kiss-off anthem “You’re So Vain” blared from the sound system.
As the public address announcer said his name, Butler laughed as the chorus of boos churned around him like a disturbed beehive. His teammates even jokingly joined.
Every time Butler touched the ball in Philadelphia’s 118-109 win over the Wolves, fans let him know their displeasure with the way he forced his way out of town with a trade demand earlier this season.
Butler finished with only 12 points on 4-for-17 shooting, but Tobias Harris picked up the slack with 25 points while Ben Simmons had 20 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Andrew Wiggins had 24 to lead the Wolves, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 21. The Wolves cut a 21-point deficit to three in the fourth quarter, but the 76ers shot too well from three-point range (15-for-31).
“That wasn’t too bad, to tell you the truth,” Butler said of his reception. “A couple boos in there, a couple cheers as well.”
The cheers came from a chunk of 76ers fans who bought seats in the nosebleeds, but when he had the ball Butler heard boos.
He and his 76ers left Target Center with another victory as they jockey for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. The team he left is crawling to the finish line.
The Wolves downplayed Butler’s return and said they didn’t try to take what happened personally, but it was the dysfunction that surrounded the first few weeks of the season that torpedoed the rest of it.
The two primary players in that drama — Butler and former coach Tom Thibodeau, who waited until 13 games into the season to deal Butler to Philadelphia after trying to convince him to stay — are gone. The rest of the coaches and players had to try to salvage the wreckage. They couldn’t in part because lineups have changed through the Butler trade and through injuries.
The Wolves started slow defensively, falling behind 38-20 after one quarter, a stretch of play that looked familiar to fans.
“For me personally I’ve dealt with nothing but change so this is nothing new in my book,” Towns said of trying to find defensive chemistry. “Just going with the flow.”
The crowd had to console itself with small moments of Butler schadenfreude. Like when Towns posted up Butler one-on-one and drew a foul in the second quarter, or when Towns blocked a Butler shot early in the third quarter.
There was one moment where the jeering might have gone too far. Early in the first, Butler missed a layup and appeared to injure himself as he was running back down the floor 3:05 into the game.
Butler stayed on the ground, then walked gingerly to the bench as some in the crowd booed him again. He brushed it off during the game — he hit a three upon re-entering — and after.
“I’m not worried about it,” Butler said. “That’s part of it.
“As long as I’m not really, really hurting like that, I’m cool. They don’t know no better. I’ll be fine.”
The team he left is hoping soon it can say the same.