MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years after knocking off the Denver Nuggets 112-106 in a winner-take-all overtime thriller on Wednesday night.
Jimmy Butler, playing in just his third game since coming back from knee surgery, helped carry the Timberwolves across the finish line, scoring 29 points, dishing out five assists and grabbing five rebounds. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game that he would extend Butler's minutes "guideline" if needed, and that's exactly what he did by using Butler for 42 minutes. Jeff Teague finished with 17 points, including a huge runner with the shot-clock expiring in overtime.
Many within the Timberwolves organization weren't sure how Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins would respond to the challenge of playing on the biggest stage the regular season can offer, the last game, but both were able to make enough plays to help push the Timberwolves over the top. Towns set a nice tone for the Timberwolves early and played with intensity throughout the biggest game of the year, finishing with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Wiggins chipped in with 18 points, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and providing a lift for a young Timberwolves group that needed every bit of it. It was Towns who grabbed a crucial rebound in the final seconds and Wiggins who knocked down a pair of gigantic free throws to ice the game.
Nikola Jokic had a huge game for the Nuggets, going off for 35 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but his inexperienced group couldn't make enough defensive stops when they needed them down the stretch. Nuggets guard Will Barton had a very solid performance racking up 24 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. The Nuggets won't be happy with the final result, but they have a lot of young talent that they should be able to build around in the years to come.
For the Timberwolves, the victory has to be a huge relief on the shoulders of Thibodeau and his players. After acquiring Butler in the summer from the Chicago Bulls, this was supposed to be the season they would be able to take a major step in their development. Missing the playoffs would have been a disaster for the group.
While the Timberwolves were not able to keep the momentum they built early in the season after Butler went down with his knee injury, Thibodeau can point to the playoff appearance as a positive sign for the future for a team that badly needed to see signs of growth this season.
The Timberwolves will face the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals this weekend.