Butler’s clutch shot leads T-wolves past Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS — The NBA is a miss or make league, and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler did what he is paid to do Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The All-Star guard, acquired from Chicago during the offseason, made the key play in the final minute of a deadlocked game, draining a 20-foot jumper after pump-faking E’Twaun Moore off his feet, then completed the three-point play with a free throw to seal a 104-98 victory over New Orleans.
Butler said Moore was “thirsty” on the key possession with the score tied at 98.
“I knew (Moore) was playing some aggressive defense,” Butler said, “(so I) gave him a little shot fake, showed him the ball a little bit. It’s crazy to me, though, because I make the hard ones and I cannot make wide-open jump shots to save my life right now.”
Butler also made three foul shots in the final 19.7 seconds to finish with a team-high 23 points.
The Timberwolves (5-3) got 18 points from Andrew Wiggins and placed four others in double figures: Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica with 12 points each and Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford with 11 apiece.
After going 7-13 in one-possession games last season, the new-look Timberwolves, with veterans such as Butler and point guard Jeff Teague, are 5-0 in such games this year.
“We’ve got guys that have been in those situations,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Jimmy gives us a great presence down the stretch. He’s one of the best clutch players in the league. He’s been that for a long time.”
New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins tied the game, 98-98, with a pair of free throws with 1:45 left, and Butler came down and missed a 15-foot fade over Moore’s outstretched arms. The Pelicans had a chance to take their first lead since the first quarter, but Tony Allen missed a point-blank layup. On the Timberwolves’ next possession, Butler was isolated on Moore on the right wing and began to back him down.
“That’s Jimmy’s game, and I thought he got hit on a lot of plays where he didn’t get calls,” Thibodeau said. “But to have the presence of mind to continue to do it, he’s so strong that he can finish through contact, and I think that’s sometimes why he doesn’t get calls. He’s got great balance, strength, concentration. He’s made shots like that for a long time now.”
The victory was amazing for the Timberwolves on several fronts. They committed 21 turnovers on the road and scored just 39 points in the second half.
Even more incredibly, Cousins (35) and Anthony Davis (24) combined for 59 points while Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns, mired in early foul trouble, scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Wiggins went 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
“I’ll tell you one thing, it’s damn good to leave with a ‘W,’” Towns said, laughing off his offensive troubles. “Statistics don’t matter. It’s about making sure this team’s successful. We found a way to scratch this one out.”
The Pelicans, on the other hand, gave up 27 points on 19 turnovers, eight by Cousins. Jrue Holiday lost the ball on a dribble in the closing seconds when the Pelicans were looking for a shot while trailing 101-98.
“It’s hard to defend the turnover in this league, especially live turnovers, so that gave them life,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we played well the second half, but you’re playing uphill most of the second half. You finally get the game where we’ve got it tied, and then we’ve just got to make plays down the stretch. They made plays. We didn’t make plays, and when you’re in a close game like that, that’s usually the difference in the game.”
“I think it’s just us just not taking care of (the ball),” Davis added. “When it’s not there, we try to force passes. We should hit the guys as soon as they’re open. We try to make those passes a little too late, so they end up becoming turnovers.”
Cousins had 19 first-half points for the Pelicans, but he also committed six of the team’s 13 turnovers.
Cousins’ worst miscue was an outlet pass that was picked off Crawford at half court. Crawford then nailed a jumper from midcourt as the first quarter ended, giving Minnesota a 31-28 first-quarter lead.
NOTES: Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said the collection of Kentucky talent on display Wednesday night was impressive — C Karl-Anthony Towns, C DeMarcus Cousins and F Anthony Davis. “You’ve probably got to give (John) Calipari some credit for recruiting great big men,” Thibodeau said. “They are so unique, all three of them.” Thibodeau said Davis can “out-quick you;” Cousins has “great quickness, great feet and hands;” Towns has “guard-like qualities — he can shoot the 3, he can put it on the floor, he can Euro-step.” ... Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is preaching consistency of effort and offensive rebounding. “We have to get those guys crashing the offensive boards and do the best we can to get some extra shots and extra possessions,” Gentry said.