Thursday night began with emotion at Target Center, with the legendary Flip Saunders memorialized with a banner raised on the north end of the arena.
It took the Timberwolves three quarters to reach that emotional level.
Down seven to the also-ran Los Angeles Lakers after the third quarter, the Wolves started the fourth quarter with a spark from the bench and ended it with Jimmy Butler dragging them to a 119-111 victory.
Their 13-game home winning streak ended Tuesday by Houston, the Wolves headed into the All-Star break perhaps having started another, in the process moving into a virtual tie with San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference.
But it almost didn’t happen.
Through three quarters the Lakers looked younger, more spry and frankly more athletic, building a lead as big as 15 points and still up seven heading into the fourth.
Then things changed.
“We started playing with a lot of energy,’’ said Butler of the fourth quarter, when he scored nine of his 24 points.
He scored nine points with two rebounds, three assists and two big blocks after being summoned back into the game with the Wolves down six with 10:35 left in the game.
“We started playing with more pace, and that turned the game around.’’
It was a little harder than Butler made it sound.
It was reserves Jamal Crawford (15 points off the bench) and Tyus Jones (eight) who really got things going.
Fouled on an inbounds play, Crawford hit the free throw. On the ensuing play Jones got the inbounds pass and hit a 31-foot three-pointer that pulled the Wolves within two. Moments later Crawford hit a three of his own and it was a one point game.
It was at that point, frankly, that momentum had changed, though it took a while to show it on the scoreboard. Jones’ layup made it a one-point game with 8:47 left, then he fed Gorgui Dieng for a layup and a Wolves lead.
Butler finished strong, scoring 11 of the Wolves’ final 21 points, including three free throws with 5:25 left that put the Wolves up for good. But it was Crawford and Jones who got it started.
“I was talking to the guys in the third [quarter], and it looked like we had no life,’’ Crawford said. “We had to inject some energy. Me and Tyus talked about it. We got in there and got the crowd going.’’
It took a while, but the Wolves (36-25) finally got the Lakers — who were playing on the back end of back-to-back nights — to cool down.
Los Angeles got 23 points from Julius Randle and 17 each from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram. Ivica Zubac came off the bench to score 19 points with 11 rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time.
But in the fourth quarter the Lakers couldn’t get going. Outscored 35-20 over the final 12 minutes, the Lakers shot 7-for-20 with six turnovers down the stretch.
Better late than never?
Perhaps. But Butler — who was about to join Karl-Anthony Towns (10 points, 19 rebounds) at this weekend’s All-Star Game — said it still annoyed him.
“Because I know how good we can be when we decide to play hard,’’ he said. “But we think we’re so good, on paper, we can go through the motions. We never want to let it get to a point where the hole is too big we can’t get ourselves out of it.
‘‘Luckily, tonight, we turned it around.’’