Butler lifts Timberwolves over Trail Blazers
MINNEAPOLIS — Back spasms left Jimmy Butler in pain on Saturday night, sending the Minnesota Timberwolves’ star to the floor in the team’s locker room to try and find some relief.
Two nights later, after being questionable for the game because of the injury, Butler got up and carried his team to an important win to finish its homestand.
Butler hit a pair of free throws with 2.5 seconds left and Damian Lillard’s 3-point shot at the buzzer was off the mark as Minnesota came from behind to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 108-107 on Monday night.
Butler scored 37 points, had six rebounds and four assists for the ‘Wolves, who finished a five-game homestand 3-2 after the comeback.
“Literally, he was laying there,” Minnesota guard Jamal Crawford said, pointing at the ground in the locker room. “Guy’s laying there and 48 hours later he puts us on his back and he did an excellent job.”
Crawford had a season-high 23 points off the bench, including 16 in the fourth quarter, for the ‘Wolves, who recovered from a disappointing loss on Saturday to Phoenix.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 16 points and eight rebounds for Minnesota.
Playing on Monday night wasn’t in much question for Butler, who recalled being a young kid back in Tomball, Texas.
“I ride for everybody in this locker room,” Butler said. “I’m going to battle with them as long as I can walk. At the end of the day, I love this game. I always think a kid from Tomball a long time ago. If you had to tell him, ‘Your back will hurt but you still get to play in the NBA.’ He’s jumping up at that opportunity every single time. I’m just thinking of all of that.
“I come in here and see my guys in this locker room getting ready, it’s easy.”
Lillard fell two rebounds shy of his first career triple-double after posting 17 points and 13 assists. Jusuf Nurkic and C.J. McCollum each scored 20 points for Portland, which had its three-game winning streak snapped after losing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead.
The Blazers shot 54.8 percent from the field but had 17 turnovers. After shooting 9 of 14 from 3 in the first half, they were 1 of 10 from deep in the second half.
“Four consecutive turnovers in the fourth quarter hurt,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn’t shoot a free throw in the second half. That hurt. I don’t know the last time I’ve ever seen a team not shoot a free throw in a half, so that obviously played a part of it. We put ourselves in a position, we had a good 10-point lead, but on the road that’s tough.”
Lillard was incensed with the lack of free-throw shots for the Blazers, which ended the game 5 of 5 from the line and didn’t have a single attempt in the fourth quarter.
“At crucial moments, we’re making plays and trying to score and guys getting hit, guys literally out there grabbing my arms,” Lillard said. “I got hit in the face one time, and it’s like in shooting motion. It’s a clear, easy play, and it’s impacting the game, man.
“On the last play of the game I’m trying to get open and the guy’s just hugging me from the back, literally hugging me. It’s three referees out there. Somebody’s got to see it. Somebody’s got to see that stuff, man. It’s happening the whole second half of the game.”
Portland finally took control of a back-and-forth game at the end of the third quarter. Lillard hit a 3 to cap a 13-3 run for an 83-74 lead.
Butler was trying to keep his team in the game, scoring 10 of the team’s 13 points at one stretch. But he was subbed out during the Blazers’ run and Portland scored seven straight points.
Crawford, the former Blazers guard, took the scoring load in the fourth. His jumper and free throw after a foul brought the Wolves within 105-104. Andrew Wiggins stole the ball from Al-Farouq Aminu underneath the basket, leading to a pair of Butler free throws for a 106-105 lead.
McCollum gave Portland the lead back with a jumper from the top of the key.
Aminu fouled Butler with 2.5 seconds left and Butler calmly stepped to the line and knocked down both free throws.
“That’s Jimmy Butler right there,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said of Butler playing through pain. “His last 15 games or so he’s just been off the charts. It’s the toughness that he brings on every possession. A special player.”
NOTES: Portland coach Terry Stotts said C Jusuf Nurkic is still on a minutes limit as he returns from an ankle injury. Nurkic played 28 minutes on Monday. ... The Trail Blazers have won eight of the last 10 games between the two teams. ... Minnesota F Nemanja Bjelica missed his 13th straight game with a left mid-foot sprain. ... The game featured 21 lead changes and was tied 17 times, with Portland holding the biggest advantage of either team at 10 points. ... ‘Wolves G Jimmy Butler has four 30-point games this season.