The Wolves got back to their winning ways on Saturday night in Minneapolis, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 111-97 in a game that was never really close.
After losing two straight to Portland and Golden State, the big news before Saturday night’s game was that Jimmy Butler was going to come back from a knee injury that had sidelined him for the previous four games. Butler came back and looked like his old self. And, equally importantly, the Wolves immediately looked like the top-5-ish in the league team they have been this season, albeit against a shorthanded Nets team that was missing its best player, DeAngelo Russell, as well as another starter, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The Wolves got off to a huge start, winning the first quarter 30-11. The Wolves then lost the second quarter 31-24 and gave up some unacceptably easy buckets. The Nets made a couple of runs in the third, at one point cutting the game to five, but ultimately came up short. During each Brooklyn run, the Wolves countered by making a big shot or two that put the Nets on their heels, which was ultimately enough to secure a double-digit victory.
Jimmy Butler played 35 minutes in his return, putting up 21/6/5/2 and a +10 in the boxscore. He made the right plays, getting easy shots for teammates like Taj Gibson and getting himself to the line 14 times on a night (Butler converted 12) when he shot only 4-14 from the field.
Taj Gibson was solid as usual. He took what the defense gave him, including a bunch of lazy jumpers in the midrange that he easily makes. He also made his usual hustle plays and continues to demonstrate his value as a lunch-pail guy and rock in the Wolves starting lineup.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 16 and 19. He played like an All-Star in this one, coming up with big plays when it mattered. It is amazing how much more poised, and therefore effective, KAT looks now than he did in the first six weeks of the season.
The Wolves bench played well too. Jamal Crawford scored 16 points and Tyus Jones added 13, as the Wolves were able to push the ball and give the Nets some looks that were different from the ones they saw when Jeff Teague was running the offense. Teague was one of the few drags on the Timberwolves in Saturday night’s game. He scored just 2 points in a quiet 24 minutes. The team’s ceiling with him running the point remains a question mark.
JAH OKAFOR SIGHTING!: Former number-three overall draft pick and rival of Karl Towns and current journeyman Jahlil Okafor managed to get on the court for Brooklyn. He was a non-factor in the game despite putting up 21 points. But man, does Okafor have an arsenal of polished post moves. He can still help a team if put in the right situation in a system like San Antonio’s or Golden State’s.
Kenny Atkinson needed to be gone: Nets coach Kenny Atkinson looks like a troubled man. Like a man who believes his job security is in question. Like a man whose excessive sweating and palpitations on the sidelines belie the cool demeanor his slick duds and haircut suggest at first glance. Midway through the 4th quarter, Atkinson lost his shit and got a quick EJECTION whilst being held back as he tried to get into the ref’s face directly. I didn’t get a good look at what happened, but the moral of the story is that Atkinson had the look of a ticking time bomb. Sure enough, it exploded.
The Wolves next game is on Monday at Atlanta. We’ll see if they can give Atkinson’s mentor, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, the same kind of fits they gave Kenny tonight.