Butler sparks late runs, lifts Timberwolves past Clippers
MINNEAPOLIS — With minutes piling up for the starters, Jimmy Butler felt fatigue had hit the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
Against an undermanned opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back, Butler wasn’t going to let a possible win slip away.
Butler scored a season-high 33 points, including 20 in the fourth quarter, as Minnesota recovered and held on to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-106 on Sunday night.
“We needed it,” Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said of Butler’s heroics. “The game was going side to side and he came in, put the cape on and was ready to go and be Superman.”
Towns had his league-leading 19th double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Taj Gibson added 20 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota, which surrendered the lead in the fourth before Butler came to the rescue.
Butler, who had six points at halftime, hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with six minutes left and scored nine straight points at one point for the Timberwolves, who won for the second time in three games.
“I mean, if I make a couple shots, why not keep shooting the ball?” Butler asked. “My teammates wanted me to keep being aggressive, they tell me to do it more often all the time. But I just want to win. That means passing the ball, guarding, scoring, whatever it means.”
Austin Rivers scored a season-high 30 points, tying a career best with seven 3-pointers, for the short-handed Clippers. DeAndre Jordan had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Los Angeles, which is without four injured starters in Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic.
“With this many guys out, we got to outwork everybody,” Rivers said. “We’re not going to out-talent anybody. We have too many guys hurt. ... The one way we can give ourselves a chance is we got to outwork people. We did that tonight.”
Coming off a deflating 108-82 loss in Dallas on Saturday, the Clippers shot 50.7 percent from the field and were 15 of 34 from 3-point territory. Rivers was 7 of 10 from beyond the arc.
“I just love how we played and we competed,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers said. “I loved our bench today. Overall, I’m upset. I mean, you want to win the game. But I loved how we played. It’s amazing how much better we got in one night. That’s what I would take.”
The hot shooting pressured Minnesota, which had to hang on for the tight victory despite a 16-7 advantage in turnovers and holding the Clippers to just two fast-break points.
Neither team led by more than the Wolves’ eight-point lead midway through the second quarter.
A pair of free throws by Lou Williams tied the game early in the fourth and Montrezl Harrell’s dunk provided Los Angeles a lead with 9:12 left before Butler took over.
Butler scored 20 of Minnesota’s final 24 points over the final 7:08 of the game.
A team with aspirations of ending a playoff drought and making noise in the postseason after adding Butler, Gibson and others in the offseason, Minnesota has had its issues on the defensive end. Butler again took the opportunity to stress the importance of defense to his new team.
“I think we’re playing hard, we just weren’t playing very smart on the defensive end,” Butler said. “Like I’ve said time and time again, we’ve got to start guarding somebody. It’s really bad, it’s really noticeable, and everybody capitalizes on it. But lucky enough, if your shot’s falling you can still win. But goodness gracious if it’s not, I’d hate to see which way this game could’ve went.”
NOTES: Minnesota F Nemanja Bjelica missed his sixth straight game with a left mid-foot sprain. His return is still uncertain. ... Los Angeles started G C.J. Williams and F Jamil Wilson. It was the first career start for each of the two rookies. G Lou Williams came off the bench. ... The Timberwolves assigned C Justin Patton to Iowa of the G League after Patton recovered from surgery to repair a metatarsal in his left foot. ... Clippers G Austin Rivers’ 20 points in the first half were a career best in a half. ... Minnesota C Karl-Anthony Towns has a double-double in 12 of his last 14 games. PF Taj Gibson has a double-double in four of his last five games.