On Thursday, the Minnesota Timberwolves played one of the most important games in franchise history. They hosted the Denver Nuggets, and the winner of the game would advance to the playoffs. The Nuggets had just beaten the Wolves in the preceding week, but this time Minnesota had Jimmy Butler and home-court advantage.
There was a palpable playoff atmosphere in the Target Center as the game began. Both teams scrapped for every loose ball, and there was no shortage of fouls on either side. Slowly, the Wolves began to build a lead. Denver wasn’t doing anything wrong—Minnesota’s shots were just falling at an unusually high rate. Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague and even Gorgui Dieng rained threes on the Nuggets.
After halftime, however, the Timberwolves’ shooting began to revert to the mean. As Minnesota’s offense faltered, Denver’s began to gain momentum. This was mainly due to the excellent performance of Nikola Jokic, who had 17 of his 35 points in the third quarter.
The two teams traded baskets back and forth as the clock ticked down in the fourth. Neither team could build a lead, and the score was tied at 101-101 as the regulation buzzer sounded.
Butler opened the overtime period by knocking down a bank shot. He was absolutely crucial in the extra period, scoring seven of the Wolves’ final 11 points. Wiggins also came in clutch when it mattered most. “Maple Jordan” has struggled from the line this year, but he hit both of his free throws during overtime to push the lead to four with less than 15 seconds left in the game.
Minnesota’s defense was excellent in overtime, and they held Denver to just five points in the last five minutes. When the final buzzer sounded, the Wolves had won 112-106.
Butler’s postgame interview was drowned out by MVP chants from the crowd in the Target Center. Undoubtedly, he deserved them. In just his third game since his return from knee surgery, Butler had 31 points, five rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block.
With this win, the Timberwolves clinch a playoff spot for the first time in 13 years. This was the longest active postseason drought in the NBA and the second longest playoff drought in league history.
This upcoming postseason will mark the Timberwolves’ first playoff appearance without Kevin Garnett on the roster. In addition, it will be the first time they have reached the postseason with a head coach who is not Flip Saunders.
Minnesota will enter the playoffs as the eighth seed. This means that they will face the top-seeded Houston Rockets. The first round of the NBA playoffs will begin on April 14th.