The stars came out Thursday night, and the Timberwolves displayed maturity and resiliency to win their 11th consecutive home game, beating Milwaukee 108-89.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, boxer Floyd Mayweather, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and rapper Gucci Mane sat courtside three nights before the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Wolves simply went about their business, limiting Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to a mere 17 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, and this time holding fast to a big lead, as large as 24 near game’s end.
They lost a 20-point lead and the game the first time these teams met, at Milwaukee in the last week of December. This time, they ended the Bucks’ four-game winning streak that started the night they fired coach Jason Kidd 10 days earlier. They also stopped their own streak at two losses after defeats Monday at Atlanta and Wednesday at Toronto.
The Wolves are 7-0 after losing consecutive games this season, a big reason why they remain fourth in the Western Conference and a game ahead of fifth-place Oklahoma City.
“Well, I’d rather not have any two-game losing streaks, but I think it’s important,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to keep scratching out wins. It’s important not to have any long losing streaks, whatever your circumstances are. You have to have the toughness to overcome whatever adversity might be facing you at that particular time. You have to get past things and you have to do it as a group. That’s important.”
The Wolves started February after playing 22 games in 39 days, starting with an overtime victory over Denver at home two days after Christmas. They were eight games over .500 before that Denver game and are 11 games over now at 33-22.
They found their legs again against the Bucks after they had played five games in seven days, and held an opponent under 100 points for only the second time in the past 12 games.
“When we get stops and we guard without fouling, we’re a good team,” Wolves star Jimmy Butler said after his 28-point, six-assist, four-rebound night. “We forget how important it is to play hard and play defense sometimes.”
They limited the Bucks to less than 38 percent shooting and won wire-to-wire, never letting the Bucks draw any closer than 15 points after halftime at 91-76 with five minutes left.
The Wolves played with an intensity and a determination that perhaps came again from their coach, a lifelong New Englander and career coach who met with Belichick before the game — and whom Thibodeau afterward said “may be the greatest coach of all time.”
Thibodeau might have coached to impress even after Belichick made an early exit Thursday.
“I noticed Thibs had a little bit more energy [Thursday],” Wolves forward Taj Gibson said. “When the lead was almost 30, Thibs just kept yelling. I was like, ‘This isn’t normal Thibs.’… I know Thibs was in a good mood. I’m taking that. When he’s in here yelling and going off, it’s like I need an Advil. It’s like I’m so used to it now.”
Everybody was happy after Thursday’s victory, maybe even Thibodeau, with those stars in attendance.
“We want to build the right habits, want to build winning habits,” Thibodeau said. “It’s great for the city to have the Super Bowl here. We’re excited about that. We appreciate that. But it’s important to understand what goes into winning and for us not to get sidetracked.
“So, be disciplined and, of course, everyone root for the Patriots.”