MINNEAPOLIS — It didn’t matter that the Minnesota Timberwolves were without three of their starters for overtime Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets.
They still had Jimmy Butler.
Butler scored scored 12 of his game-high 39 points in overtime to help Minnesota top Denver 128-125 on Wednesday night. Butler’s best performance of the season drew chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the sold-out Target Center.
“I just want to be here to win, give this city hope, put this city back where it wants to be — at the top of this thing, in the playoffs,” said Butler, in his first season with Minnesota. “But we’ve got to continue to play some really good basketball.
Though Butler may not be the MVP of the NBA just yet, he’s certainly been a valuable addition to the Timberwolves. Wednesday night was just another example of that.
Butler picked up the slack in overtime after Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson fouled out, and point guard Jeff Teague exited with an injury.
“He’s got unbelievable will to win, and that’s what makes him so special,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said of Butler. “When his best is needed, he’s always at his best. Always been that way, and that’s not going to change.”
The Timberwolves held off a Nuggets team that surged in the second half after Minnesota led by as many as 19 points.
The Timberwolves (22-13) have now won five in a row. Wednesday’s loss halted the Nuggets’ winning streak at three games.
Butler’s 39 points included 16 of 18 from the free-throw line. Andrew Wiggins chipped in 21 points for Minnesota, including five 3-pointers.
With the game tied at 125, Butler found veteran Jamal Crawford for the go-ahead basket with 47.6 seconds to play in overtime. It was the only two of the Timberwolves’ overtime points not scored by Butler.
“I screamed his name 10 times. I yelled loud,” Crawford said of Butler. “Honestly, it was fun just to watch it. Obviously, you’re there to help. He trusted me in that situation, and it was good for us.”
Will Barton had a team-high 28 points for Denver (19-16) and sank two free throws with five seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime. Trey Lyles added 23 points in the loss.
The Nuggets outscored Minnesota 56-43 in the second half, but simply didn’t have an answer for Butler in overtime.
“That’s an All-Star,” Denver’s Trey Lyles said of Butler. “He showed his worth right there.”
Teague was injured with 13.4 seconds remaining in regulation after a jump ball at midcourt. He injured his knee and needed help walking off the court to the locker room. Teague will have an MRI exam on the injured knee on Thursday.
Towns, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds, fouled out earlier in the fourth quarter. Gibson fouled out early in overtime, leaving Minnesota further depleted in the extra session.
Butler did everything he could to will his team to a win, including a 3-pointer and a free throw with 16.9 seconds remaining. He also grabbed a big rebound on defense late in overtime after a Denver miss.
The Nuggets used a 13-0 run — including eight points from Barton during that stretch — to climb to within 86-81 late in the third quarter. Minnesota clung to a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Denver managed to tie the score early in the fourth on a floater by Barton, effectively erasing the Nuggets’ sizable deficit. Minnesota’s offense, which thrived with plenty of ball movement in the first half, grew stagnant as its defense struggled to make stops at the other end.
“We could’ve very easily have folded and just rolled over,” said Nuggets coach Mike Malone. “I loved the fact that our guys never did that. We competed, forced overtime.”
Denver’s defense had held its previous three opponents to 85 points or less. Minnesota already had 71 points at halftime and led by 13 at the break.
NOTES: The Timberwolves reassigned F Justin Patton to the team’s G League affiliate, the Iowa Wild. Patton, the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft, has yet to debut with Minnesota after having offseason foot surgery. He was recalled by the Timberwolves on Dec. 24 but didn’t play. ... Minnesota C Karl-Anthony Towns registered his league-leading 28th double-double of the season. ... Denver reassigned F Tyler Lydon to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G League. Lydon has appeared in just one game this season with Denver.