Don’t ask how, just ask how many.
For the Timberwolves, the answer is 13 after Sunday night’s laborious 111-106 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
That’s 13, as in consecutive home victories now that the Wolves found just enough of what they needed in the fourth quarter to keep their streak alive.
They outscored the Kings 36-26, recorded seven assists on eight made baskets, made 16 free throws and rode Jimmy Butler’s 11 points in that fourth quarter. The victory puts the Wolves at 35-24 with two games left before next weekend’s All-Star break.
“We didn’t play well,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, “but we did enough to win in the end.”
It was what Thibodeau called the hustle plays that helped make the difference when the Wolves couldn’t find the same energy, the same kind of wave they used to crush Cleveland and Portland and beat Toronto during the third-longest home winning franchise streak in franchise history.
They followed last-second losses at Cleveland on Wednesday and at Chicago on Friday by persevering against a Kings team that’s now 17-38.
“It’s a long season, it really is,” veteran guard Jamal Crawford said. “There will be highs and lows and ebbs and flows, but if we can find ways to win games like even when we’re not technically at our best, then it’s a good thing for us.”
The Wolves found a way to win when backup point guard Tyus Jones twice stole the ball in the fourth quarter’s opening minute, after the Wolves trailed 80-75 to end the third.
They found a way to win when Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins blocked shots within four seconds of each other just when it seemed Kings rookie guard De’Aaron Fox was headed for a breakaway layup with the score tied and less than four minutes left.
“One play can make the difference,” Jones said. “Just trying to make the play, just had to grind this one out. Sometimes it’s tougher some nights than others. We were just doing the little things we have to do.”
This time, the Wolves didn’t play with the same kind of what Towns calls “energy” and “urgency” that were the bedrock of this home streak’s first 12 victories.
Those hustle plays helped make the difference. So, too, did Towns’ four fourth-quarter assists and consecutive three-pointers by Towns, Jeff Teague and Crawford midway through the period.
Butler’s play didn’t hurt, either. He scored those 11 fourth-quarter points partly by going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. He also had two assists in the quarter.
Crawford was asked what the difference in that telling fourth quarter was.
“Jimmy Butler woke up,” Crawford said. “He was asleep. Obviously, we know how good he is. But it just separates everything. He started making all the plays and he read the game wonderfully. Score, get fouled, get assists. We tried chipping in when we could.”
When asked if the Wolves poked Butler to wake him up, Crawford said: “Don’t poke him. Don’t poke the bear. You’ve got to get him talking. If he stays quiet, it’s not the best thing.”
Towns credited the steals and blocked shots for a victory that saved the Wolves from not being the same team they have been at home these past two months.
“It would have been weird to lose,” Towns said. “We didn’t lose, so it was the same thing, just a different recipe we cooked up tonight.”