Timberwolves 108, Blazers 107: Jimmy and Jamal

Jimmy Butler was lightly-recruited out of high school, then spent a season at tiny Tyler Junior College, after which he was ranked the 127th-best junior college prospect of 2008. Marquette assistant Buzz Williams was in Texas to see one of Jimmy’s teammates, and happened to notice him; eventually, he landed in Milwaukee, where he worked his way up from 19 minutes per game in a reserve role to all-Big East honorable mention his senior season. Then, he was the final pick of the first round in the 2011 Draft. The rest, you probably know: he worked his way up, again, from a seldom-used reserve to a rotation piece to a key cog to the All-NBA team.

Jamal Crawford was the 46th-rated prospect in the high school class of 1999, ahead of the likes of Caron Butler, Steve Blake and Gilbert Arenas. He was recruited heavily and committed to Michigan, where he was suspended twice, once for accepting payments that affected his amateur status and once for trying to declare for the draft after he’d signed his letter of intent. He was selected 8th overall and was a rotation player from the get-go; in 2004, he’s signed several lucrative contracts throughout his career. The rest, you probably know: he bounced around as a vexing lead guard before finding his niche as a dynamite bench scorer.

Butler’s got skill and finesse, but he ultimately wants to bludgeon you with his thick, jacked frame. In Monday’s victory over the Blazers, he scored 37 points on 12/21 shooting, including 5-for-5 shooting on clutch 4th-quarter free throw attempts he earned the hard way; by throwing himself at the rim with reckless abandon. On the other side of the ball, he battled, he boxed out, he hustled back to make defensive plays in transition, and he stole the ball three times. His reckless abandon with make any fan hold their breath, but that hustle helps put his team over the top, and provides an edge this team lacked before.

Crawford’s got skill and finesse, and he ultimately wants to dazzle you with it; sick handles, backbreaking jumpers, a flair for the dramatic. He dropped 23 points on the Blazers’ heads, in 23 minutes, including 16 in the final frame on 7-of-10 shooting. He tiptoed around screens, leaning with ball ever so precisely, feeling out the defense, finding seams, attacking open spaces so he could levitate into his jump shot, his feet twitching in rhythm with his release, his long arms and thin torso hovering there as the ball arced toward the rim. His decision-making will drive any fan insane, but when he’s on, my God, it’s a sight to behold. And the man was flamethrowing tonight.

What an odd couple; and yet, how fortunate Wolves fans are that they’re here. The principal members of Minnesota’s roster who carried over from previous seasons were M.I.A. as the game roared down the stretch. Karl-Anthony Towns spent the fourth committing bad fouls and turnovers; Andrew Wiggins spent a good chunk of it on the bench. And while there are implications to unpack, and perhaps lingering doubts to address (Why is Towns so unreliable in clutch? Will Wiggins ever remember how to shoot again?) we can save those for another time. At least, I will. That was fun. Jimmy and Jamal made it fun. Minnesota’s 18-13 and back on track.

A few other odds and ends from this one:

-This recap could’ve (probably should’ve) gone very differently: Damian Lillard got hacked on his drive with 10 seconds to go, and got no whistle. Dave Benz and Jim Petersen rightly called it out. But, alas, that’s the way things go. The Wolves will be on the receiving end of it at some point. Dame himself had this to say after the game:

-The Blazers took five free throws in the entire game. Five. FIVE. That’s absurd.

-I know I hinted at Butler’s line above, but the full thing is worth spelling out: 37 points on 12/21 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 0 turnovers, all in 35 minutes while dealing with back spasms.

-Wiggins: 4-of-14 from the field. Did a whole lot of settling for midrange jumpers. His past 8 games: 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 35% FGs, 18% 3PTs, 59% FTs.

-The Wolves nearly lost the game when they allowed the Blazers to end the third on a 15-4 run, punctuated by 2 turnovers, 2 Gorgui misses, 2 Wiggins misses, and 2 Wiggins bricked field goals.

-Why is Evan Turner? Just, like, in general. Why?

LEBRON JAMES WAS RIGHT – Shabazz Napier, who scored 15 off the bench, is awesome. I am basing this argument off of this game, and this game alone.

-The other Shabazz in the building, Shabazz Muhammad, was a healthy scratch for the 6th time in 7 games. For the third straight game, it was Marcus Georges-Hunt getting playing time instead. Even though Hunt registered no statistics other than 3 personal fouls in his 7 minutes, I hope he continues to get a look. We know what Bazz is; Hunt is still a bit of a mystery.

-Shoutout to Scott Foster for orchestrating the most tedious late-game jump-ball in NBA history. First, he held it forever. Then, he chastised both Towns and Nurkic for the way they were standing. Then, when he finally was ready, he biffed the toss. It was Joey Crawford-esque.

-The Wolves take on the Nuggets on Wednesday night. Should be a fun one, and a good test against another up-and-coming division opponent.

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2 thoughts on “Timberwolves 108, Blazers 107: Jimmy and Jamal

  1. We most definitely are NOT back on track. Quite simply, we are extremely lucky to escape with an at home win in this one.

    -Not to be too negative, (I’d consider myself an annoyed realist at this point…) this was a fun game.

    -In regards to the officiating, “But, alas, that’s the way things go.” Just trying to look at it objectively, the Wolves have not had a single game where the refs refused to give us calls like they did for Portland. It hasn’t gone that way for us once this season. In fact, overall I’ve been impressed with the officiating in general in the NBA this season. This was an ugly exception, and the fact that it favored us was one of the several simultaneous eclipses that had to line up in order to miracle us to this one point win.

    -Here’s the thing with Crawford–tonight was a great example of why he’s a fun and somewhat effective player. But, people are clamoring for him to play more minutes now. I completely agree with playing him more when he’s really hot and someone else (Wiggins in this case, surprise!) is really cold. I agree with benching Wiggins because he wasn’t helping us and as a message. I am for more bench minutes. But we can’t play Crawford too much. Like this was on the high side, perhaps as far as what he should be doing. He’s 37. He takes a lot of bad shots. He plays no defense. People rightly like him because he’s a wily baller out there, and makes tough shots. But he’s a guy who basically has not concerned himself with D his whole career, and he’s a guy who takes bad shots as a point of pride. In other words, he’s just what the Dr. ordered tonight, but he’s not the consummate team player and playing him too much is a bad idea.

    -This was an off game for Portland and I have a past history of disliking them. But I’m jealous of how they play. They have shot makers in a way we do not. They have good action, play with some pace. They defend. Maybe on talent alone we’ll be about the same or a bit better at the end of the season, but I like how they play better and we are lucky to have caught them on an off game. For instance, they shot 54% to our 46% and they had 26 assists to our 19. Those are two stat lines to keep an eye on. We tend to not shoot a great % (particularly from 3) and at the same time allow teams to shoot really good percents. The assist thing is a symptom of the flawed offense we play and the lack of chemistry.

    -It’s as though the Wolves just read William’s piece about the 4th quarter! We pulled off a good one, although we basically got carried on the backs of Butler and Crawford. The main idea was to supplement and teach young talent with vets. But it’s basically turning into a vet team that is flawed because there aren’t enough vets.

    -Jim is starting to sound like one of us. He went on a great soliloquy about how we play without joy. Totally agree, and it isn’t just an aesthetics or fun problem. Teams with that ‘joy look’ are running better offenses, probably have better systems, and better chemistry and a better coach. He also really berated Wiggins. I was cheering for that as hard as I was for the game. It was just cathartic. But it is also pointless. Wiggins will pull out of this drought eventually. But he’ll never be the player we want. He’ll never not be, on some level, a waste of raw talent. This is why I am sad we got rid of LaVine and not him and am worried we gave him max money. I’ve said this a lot, but if I was running the team I would have traded him by now.

    -KAT, on the other hand. He, to a lesser degree, is suffering from the same problems… lackadaisical, not developing well, inconsistent, not clutch, not intense, not tough. But I feel it’s not as bad with KAT. He might be a career disappointment, too, but a better one. As for ‘Why is Towns so unreliable in the clutch?’ I’m not so sure he’s that bad. Thibs has never gone to him in the clutch, as the guy, even for tiny amounts. Sam did it a tiny bit… While Wiggins has had a ton of fruitless burn as Thibs tried to develop him as a closer. I think KAT will improve in the clutch if we go to him more in the clutch. It needs to be developed (but he might need more rest to be effective at it. His legs just aren’t that strong). But it’s all in on Butler taking all those shots, and Crawford taking the scraps at this point so don’t hold your breath. KAT was generally off in this one, but I think if we are serious about out future, we have to give KAT some clutch burn. Jimmy isn’t going to be around forever. Wiggins is a lost cause in this respect and is very close to playing himself into a 2nd 3rd 4th fiddle role for his career, not an all star or closer. KAT is our chance to develop a young guy into that. Will we invest in it like we did for two years with Wiggins? Our young core is so diminished that even with good development (no sign of that yet) we will have to rely on wheeling and dealing in the future to stay relevant. It’s not about dressing our core up with sides, it’s about acquiring enough assets and skillfully finding players to form a team on the market, as well as convincing important pieces to stay. With Thibs and his system good luck. With our front office history, good luck. We may have sold a little too much of our future off too soon by the appearance of how this season is going.

  2. The ease at which Portland scored tonight was difficult to watch, had to turn and see Atlanta end Packers season in third. Great to see the Wolves come back for once in the fourth, much the same way we let Phoenix and Philly back in this home stand. We had two players get hot, tightened up our defense, (kind of) while Blazers made some boneheaded plays and got some calls to go our way.
    Let’s face it, the thing that aggravates us is that while Butler and Crawford are killing it, our two young stars are shooting God awful. However, Wiggins made a great strip on a sure dunk, got some rebounds and looked helpful by not trying to force himself into being a hero. That is progress. KAT struggled, but he got some boards, hit a couple of needed threes and again let the hot hand run. His illegal screen was as much Jimmys fault as KAT.
    Captain Casual needs to shoot better and work to get better shots and not settle for horrendous ones. Tonight he had a smaller player on him and still tried his awful turnaround fade away early in the clock. That should be Thibs cue to get him out of the game. He must get punished for continued bad behavior. Crawford wants more minutes, let him have Andrews. KAT needs to learn how to drop step and make plays similar to the scores Taj made early in the game. He is too willing to float outside and not find ways to use his mobility to get around guys like Nurkic. He can still shoot the occasional three, but if he is going to be a star, he has to find ways to beat bigger bigs down low.
    Overall, it was a typical NBA game, where veterans play smarter and more clutch in the end. They also get calls that young players don’t. We got a quality win to offset some bad losses and hit the road on a high note.

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