MINNEAPOLIS — Jimmy Butler had heard enough from teammates after only taking 17 a combined shots in the first two games of the Timberwolves’ first-round playoff series in Houston. Butler had gone 4-of-11 from the field in scoring 13 points in a three-point loss in Game 1 and then 3-of-6 in scoring only 11 in a 20-point setback in Game 2.
“I could tell you for the last couple of days I got tired of my teammates telling me to be more aggressive,” Butler said following the Wolves’ 121-105 victory over the Rockets in Game 3 on Saturday at Target Center. “I took it upon myself to do just that. They were saying they were used to me being aggressive for the past seven months so don’t switch it up now. I did that, did my job, we did our job and we won this game.”
Butler, the Wolves’ top defender, finished with a team-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting and knocked down 4-of-6 three-point attempts as the Wolves’ equaled the Rockets’ 15 three-pointers, one game after Minnesota only made five three-point shots.
“He brings a tenacity and a toughness to our team and we need that,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said of Butler. “We get that from him, we get that from Taj (Gibson). I think KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns) has grown in that area. But we need that from everybody.”
The Wolves also got it from Butler’s former teammate with the Chicago Bulls on Saturday as Derrick Rose, a late-season pick up by the Wolves, came off the bench to score 17 points in 21 minutes.
Butler certainly provided tenacity and toughness, despite playing in only his sixth game since returning from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Butler also is playing with a wrap on his right wrist. In Game 2 on Wednesday he appeared to tweak his shoulder while being fouled and Saturday he twisted his ankle late in the second quarter causing the Wolves to take a timeout. Butler was limping in the locker room after the game.
So how is the ankle and could the injury impact Butler for Game 4 on Monday? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said in providing a response that would have made a hockey player proud.
“It’s all mental,” Butler said when asked about playing through injuries. “At the end of the day if you tell your mind it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t. Play through it, whatever it may be. This time of year everybody’s nicked up so nobody feels sorry for anyone.”
Butler might not want to talk about injuries, but he loves to talk about defense. If the Wolves are going to even this series, they must continue to play solid on that end and they certainly look good in that area in Game 4. James Harden, who is expected to be named the NBA’s MVP, had a game-high 29 points in Game 3 but did not approach the 44 he scored in the opener. Harden made only 2-of-18 shots from the field in Game 2 and finished with 12 points.
“We’re just trusting one another,” Butler said when asked about the Wolves’ defensive success. “If they get to the paint, trust that the bigs are going to be there, that the guards are going to come in and rebound for the bigs.
“If somebody has to rotate we trust each other enough to know that that person is going to be there. That’s all that defense is: the want to do it. You’ve got to do it as hard as you can and you’ve got to trust everybody else out there on the floor. … As long as we guard, as long as we defend, we’ll put ourselves in a good enough position to win.”