January 23, 2018, 2:11 am
The Minnesota Timberwolves won 31 games last season.
Tonight the Wolves picked up their 31st win and the season with more than 40 percent of their games left to go.
Earlier in the season the Wolves lost their two games without Jimmy Butler by 23 and 21 points respectively.
Tonight the Wolves won their second straight without Butler, both times over current playoff teams.
It’s been an incredible season of growth for the Wolves so far and things don’t look to be slowing down as illustrated by those two points above. The Wolves have come a long way in such a short amount of time and it’s been led by the development of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Of course Jimmy Butler is still the leader of this team, Taj Gibson continues to have a career-season and Jeff Teague, along with a number of role players, have made positive contributions, but it’s come down to the fact that Towns and Wiggins have seemingly bought into the system and have matured beyond what was expected this season.
There are still bumps in the road and these guys are far from perfect, but these last two games are not games the Wolves would have won in the past, sans Butler.
The performance tonight is probably best categorized as “organized chaos”, but being able to seal these games without the Wolves’ current closer, Butler, serves as a major moral boost for the team. They’ll only be stronger once Butler returns.
Again not all was perfect tonight. The defense was far from their best, allowing the Clippers to shoot 56 percent from the field, letting Blake Griffin put up a triple-double and getting torched by Montrezl Harrel off the bench.
The offense more than made up for it though, led by a masterful performance from Wiggins. Early on in the game it was clear the Wolves have “aggressive and engaged” Wiggins, which is typically the dominating one.
Tonight he torched the Clippers for 40 points on 16-of-28 shooting with six rebounds, one assist, one block and three 3-pointers. He was throwing down assertive dunks, running the floor in transition and hitting shots all over the floor. He shot 10-of-13 inside the paint and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. He still needs to cut down his mid-range jumpers though.
His backcourt mate Teague went for 30 points in what was his best game of the season. He shot 7-of-14 from the field and 15-of-16 from the free throw line, while picking up six assists and three rebounds. Nearly all of Teague’s shots came from the middle of the floor, with only four attempts outside the paint.
Nemanja Bjelica has a season-best game as well in another start. He finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists, one steal and three 3-pointers on 6-of-13 shooting in 35 minutes.
Towns only shot 1-of-7 from the field in this one, finishing with 11 points thanks to 9-of-10 free throw attempts, but he picked up 17 rebounds, three assists and one block. This was not a great night for Towns though. He was inconsistent at best and made an incredibly bone-headed turnover with 26 seconds left in a one-possession game.
Luckily the Wolves were saved by Blake Griffin making consecutive bone-headed turnovers on the ensuing possessions.
A situation like this could play out to be beneficial for Towns though. The Wolves have reached a point where they can teach through a player’s failure and still manage to win games.
The victories continue to pile up for the Wolves. They now hold the tie breaker over three of the six teams behind them in the playoff race. They hold the third overall seed on their own at the moment, jumping the Spurs with this victory. They can lock up another tie-breaker if they can beat the Trail Blazers in their next game on Wednesday.
From here on the schedule get really tough for the Wolves though. They take on the Warriors and the Raptors again, both on the road and both on the second of back-to-backs. Hopefully the Wolves can welcome back Butler soon, despite managing the previous two games without him.
Before the game Thibs gave an update on Butler and Crawford’s status. Butler had a test done on his knee and he’s day-to-day with soreness. Crawford sprained his toe and is day-to-day as well. The Wolves are confident both will return soon. Hopefully by the Thursday night matchup in Oakland.