Two days earlier, after a crushing loss, Jimmy Butler was lying on the floor in front of his locker at Target Center, trying to calm the pain in his back. We learned this from teammate Jamal Crawford.
“He was laying right there,’’ said Crawford, whose locker is next to Butler’s in the Wolves locker room. “You guys didn’t know that, but I’m telling you now. So I guess it’s breaking news.
“But the guy was laying there. And, 48 hours later, he puts us on his back.”
Two days after battling through back pain that appeared to make every movement difficult, Butler scored 37 points, had six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Driving to the basket in the closing seconds, he was fouled, then calmly made both free throws with 2.5 seconds left — amid chants of “MVP’’ from the crowd of 14,187 — to give the Wolves a 108-107 victory over Portland on Monday night in a game that seemed a heck of a lot more important than most in December.
It ended an up-and-down, five-game homestand on an up note in a hotly contested Northwest Division game, giving the Wolves (18-13) a 3-2 record in those five games as they head back out on the road.
Offensively, it was pretty much a two-man show. Butler had 11 points in the fourth quarter, as the Wolves came back from 10 down with 7:28 down to win.
Crawford scored 23 points off the bench, 16 in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, down the stretch, it was everyone. But the surprisingly stingy defense the Wolves displayed over the final minutes wouldn’t have mattered had Butler not shook off the pain.
“That’s Jimmy Butler right there,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “His last 15 games or so, he’s just been off the charts. It’s the toughness he brings in every possession. Special player.”
Portland (16-14) got 20 points each from center Jusuf Nurkic and guard CJ McCollum. Damian Lillard, McCollum’s backcourt mate, had 17. The Blazers shot 54.8 percent in the game. But, down the stretch, Portland’s offense struggled.
It all started after Zach Collins scored with 7:28 left to put the Blazers up 97-87.
Portland had scored on six of seven possessions in the quarter to that point. After that? Five out of 15.
Portland had burned the Wolves on three-pointers in the first half, hitting nine of 14. In the second half? Just 1-for-10.
Meanwhile, Butler was scoring 11 and Crawford 10 as the Wolves finished the game on a 21-10 run.
Key moments included Crawford’s three-pointer immediately following Collins’ score, Butler hitting a technical free throw after Evan Turner was called for complaining about a call, and Crawford’s steal, which turned into Butler’s dunk with 5:31 left — a basket that got Target Center unhinged.
Down one, Karl-Anthony Towns forced Lillard into a miss on a layup and Taj Gibson got the rebound with 8.6 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Butler drove, was fouled, and won the game.
How back did his back hurt after Saturday’s loss to Phoenix:
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Butler said. “Kick you in your back 1,000 times, and see how you feel.”
But nothing feels better than winning. It was the first time since February of 2012 the Wolves came back from 10 or more down in the final 8 minutes of a game to win.
Not surprisingly, Butler riffed on the defense down the stretch rather than the scoring. On Towns’ plays late, key stops by Andrew Wiggins.
“That’s how I want to play for 48 minutes,’’ Butler said. “We need that every game. We have to contest shots, rotate, do all of that. Now, if you can do that every possession? That would be some beautiful basketball.”
What happened Monday looked pretty good, at least in the end. But it wouldn’t’ have happened if Butler hadn’t gotten up off the floor.
“My guys, I’m going about it with them as long as I can walk,” Butler said. “At the end of the day, I love this game.”