It was Feb. 24, 2018, and the Timberwolves were in third place in the Western Conference with a 37-26 record.
And it wasn’t even a Western Conference tournament. The Western Conference was loaded to the gills. Five games were separating third and eighth place at this stage. If the team has a bad week, they may lose their home-court advantage and be eliminated from the playoffs.
In 2017-18, the Timberwolves put everything on the line. Depending on the type of glasses you’re wearing, there are several ways to interpret the moves.
According to many, the Wolves return to competitiveness was due to a combination of actions (headed by the acquisition of Jimmy Butler) that allowed them to compete once more. Others argued that moving Zach LaVine and a first-round selection for Butler was delaying the development of Karl-Anthony Towns, the team’s young star at 22 years old.
Butler tore his meniscus in a game against the Rockets on Feb. 23. He’d miss the next 17 games, and Butler has never been a particularly durable player (in his career, he’s appeared in 70 or fewer contests twice).
The Wolves were able to remain afloat during that period because of Towns’ 25.2 points per game and effective shooting (54.1 FG percent, 42.9 3P percent), including a significant win over the Warriors.
Because of this poor record, the team fell behind the pack in the Western Conference playoff race at 8-9.
Timberwolves supporters experienced a great deal of anxiety over the final five days of the regular season. As of April 7, the Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets shared eighth place in the Western Conference with a record of 7-7.
Heading into the final game of the season, the Timberwolves were on a two-game winning run, while the Nuggets had a six-game winning streak,
Basketball’s gods can intervene in the finest conceivable ways at times.
The Timberwolves and the Nuggets both finished the season with 46-35 records, so they met in the final game of the season at Target Center. The victor of the tournament would advance to the postseason. The loser would be sent home.
However, the Nuggets beat the Wolves by just six days before this matchup in 2017-18, giving the Wolves a 2-1 lead going into this one.
A playoff appearance for the Timberwolves is more crucial than a playoff berth for the Denver Nuggets.
Thibodeau went all-in with this group despite the presence of Towns and Wiggins, despite the team’s age. It was difficult to argue that this club was not a playoff-caliber team despite its lack of championship potential.
You have to make the playoffs, of course, to be regarded as such.
The Nuggets had been out of the playoffs for four years, which isn’t ideal. The Timberwolves had not made the playoffs in 13 seasons in Minnesota.
The 82nd game of the season. We’re off to a good start.
Despite the raucous enthusiasm and boisterousness of the crowd, there was a palpable air of unease throughout the sold-out Target Center.
This will be such a wonderful experience if we are successful. For future generations to learn from.
I doubt I’ll ever be the same if we lose.
Early on, there were undoubtedly a few butterflies in the stomach. The first five baskets of the game were missed by both teams.
The Timberwolves rallied from a 13-8 deficit midway through the first quarter to take a 31-28 lead with 10:34 left in the half thanks to a big hammer dunk by Towns that nearly brought the roof of the building crashing down.
A 62-54 halftime lead for the Wolves was a comfortable one. All things considered, this is a good lead. Many people didn’t expect this game to be a high-scoring, back-and-forth battle. Typically, these kinds of games tend to be slower and more tedious.
A hook shot by Towns early in the third quarter put the Wolves ahead 64-54, their highest margin of victory to that point. With 10:15 remaining in the third quarter, the Nuggets went on a 7-0 run to close the gap to three.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Wolves held an 86-81 lead after swapping baskets for most of the third quarter. Nikola Jokic, the All-Star center for the Denver Nuggets, was on a roll. He got 30 points at the end of the first half and 17 in the third.
The fourth quarter started in Minnesota’s favor. The Wolves led 99-91 with 4:26 to go in the game thanks to a big 3-pointer from Jeff Teague.
After that, the Nuggets went on a run of success. For Jokic, it was a 3 on the drill. Despite Butler missing two crucial free throws, Jamal Murray came down and nailed an incredible 2 pointer. Murray sank a three-pointer after Butler mishandled the ball.
There were just 2:52 left in the game, and it was knotted at 99. The structure had lost all of its vitality.
Butler had a brief moment of redemption with a midrange jumper to re-establish the Timberwolves’ lead. Murray, on the other hand, answered with another layup.
At some point in the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves decided to have Taj Gibson guard Jokic instead of Towns. This is more of a compliment to Gibson than it is a dig at Towns. He’s a tough defender who gets into the heads of his opponents. In the final stretch, this was on full display.
When Jokic pulled up from the corner with 2.0 seconds left, Gibson may have made the play of the season. A block by Gibson on Jokic’s shot was credited to him, as Gibson had his hand on the ball.
This was a hugely dangerous move on their part. Gibson’s or Jokic’s hand’s mistake margin was extremely narrow. It would have been awful to send Jokic to the free-throw line to win the game, but if you can trust anyone, it’s Gibson.
In the end, this provided the Timberwolves a chance to win the game. On a 3-point attempt from 31 feet away, Jamal Crawford sank nothing.
We’re off to overtime.
The start of overtime was much shakier than the second half of the game. 2 minutes and 20 seconds into overtime, the Timberwolves and Nuggets each scored two points.
Denver’s 3-pointer gave the Nuggets a 104-103 advantage, which Minnesota couldn’t recover from.
Wilson Chandler fouled Butler and he sank both of his free throws to make it a two-point game. The Nuggets retook the lead ten seconds later on a three-pointer by Paul Millsap.
To give the Timberwolves an overtime lead with 1:19 remaining, Teague hit a circus-like floater shot that was half luck, half talent.
With Gibson still guarding Jokic, he missed the second bunny in overtime. The Timberwolves made their first appearance in the playoffs since 2004 with two free throws from Butler and two from Wiggins in the final 14 seconds.
After the game, Wiggins said, “I was cool, I was confident.” “I walked to the line confident because I felt like I’m quite decent at making judgments and shots down the stretch when needed.”
There were tears of excitement for the Timberwolves, but also a relief for a long-standing fan base that had remained so faithful.
After the game, Towns was visibly upset. Even though he wasn’t a part of the team throughout the drought, he became the face of the franchise and the player that many fans put their trust in.
Certainly did that in the greatest game of his career, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
After the game, Towns said, “There was a lot of emotion. ‘I was just chatting to our security guy, and I was telling him that my parents were crying, and everyone was really excited.
As a gamer, you constantly feel like there are another 30 seconds before the game ends, so it’s difficult to switch to sheer joy straight soon. When I go to sleep tonight, I’m afraid I’ll be awakened in the middle of the night by the realization of what transpired.”
This game will forever be a Timberwolves and NBA classic. We’ve all heard the phrase “every game matters!” when we were kids in sports. Even in an 82-game season, some of these sayings are true.