Butler leads Timberwolves to win over Thunder
MINNEAPOLIS — The exhaustion from his illness and playing 38 minutes was expressed greatly in Jimmy Butler’s face as he walked to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ bench during a timeout late in Friday’s home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Butler, through it all, was willing his new team to another win. This was the Butler that Minnesota and coach Tom Thibodeau were eager to bring aboard in the offseason.
Butler scored a season-high 25 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter to lead the Timberwolves to another nail-biting win, 119-116, against Oklahoma City on Friday.
“That’s the thing that you really respect from him; he always plays his best when his best is needed,” said Thibodeau, who previously coached Butler in Chicago. “That’s a result of his preparation. He studies, he prepares, he works and then when those situations come, I think it’s slow to him because he’s already prepared for it, and he’s put the work into it. We always say the magic is in the work. It really is. He’s a great example of that.”
Karl-Anthony Towns had season highs with 33 points and 19 rebounds, and Jeff Teague added 17 points and 10 assists for Minnesota, which beat Oklahoma City last Sunday on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins chipped in 14 points on Friday, and Taj Gibson had his best game with the Timberwolves with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting and eight rebounds.
“I hope that’s part of my role here, to make sure that everybody’s doing the right things, playing with energy on both ends of the floor,” Butler said. “We’ve got a really talented group of guys, man. When everybody’s clicking like that and we’re executing — yeah, we had some hiccups today — but when everybody’s moving that ball, swinging that ball, we’re playing team defense and team offense, and team everything, we’re going to be alright.”
Russell Westbrook had 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for the Thunder, who have lost three of their past four games. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George each scored 23 points for Oklahoma City.
Anthony, who had hit a go-ahead 3 before Wiggins’ winning shot on Sunday, missed a 3-pointer as time expired on Friday night, with the rebound going to Butler.
“Obviously they’re a very talented team and we’ve got a talented team as well,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Both games have been hard-fought.”
Both teams made major changes in the offseason in an attempt to challenge in the Western Conference playoffs, and the new-look lineups have spent the early part of the season getting used to each other.
Butler had missed two games with an upper-respiratory infection but showed his stabilizing impact on Friday. Minnesota took two uninspiring blowout losses without their new start swingman even though Towns and Wiggins were still in the lineup.
While Butler has deferred to Towns and Wiggins at times this season, he took over in the fourth on Friday. He hit a jump shot with 1:42 left and followed with an acrobatic lay-in while falling to the floor to stretch the lead to 118-112.
“He’s a killer now,” said Gibson, who played with Butler in Chicago and saw his maturation into an NBA start. “He always wants that shot. He always makes it in practice. Seeing that development in him over the years is crazy. He puts the work into the game and tonight was just one of those games he showed what he’s capable of doing.”
Westbrook has been more of the facilitator for Oklahoma City, entering the night with a league-leading 12.8 assists per game. It was more of the same Friday as Westbrook didn’t take his first shot of the night until 3:13remaining in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, George scored 12 in the first as Oklahoma City took a lead and Anthony added 11 in the second.
“Yeah, you know, we’re just trying to figure it out,” Westbrook said. “We’re trying to find ways to obviously be efficient, but at the same time making sure guys are in a spot to catch the ball and be effective.”
NOTES: Minnesota C Karl-Anthony Towns has five double-doubles in six games this season and has scored at least 20 points five times. ... Oklahoma City C Steven Adams started the night by hitting his first eight field goals. It’s the best start from the field in a game in Adams’ career. The Thunder record is 12 for 12 from Serge Ibaka in 2014. ... Adams had 20 points and eight rebounds. ... Towns surpassed Pooh Richardson for 12th place on the Wolves’ all-time scoring list with 3,696 points.