Jimmy Butler

Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Coping with an injured superstar

jimmy-butler-3-7-18-timberwolves-ap.jpg
AP Photo

Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Coping with an injured superstar

MINNEAPOLIS – Similar in some ways, different in more that matter. 

That’s the only way you can look at the parallels some have tried to draw between the injuries to Boston’s Gordon Hayward and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler.

Both are All-Star wing players who are playing with different teams this season than the one that drafted them. 

And both suffered leg-related injuries. 

But the significant difference is that Hayward’s dislocated ankle injury is expected to keep him sidelined for the entire season. 

Meanwhile, there’s a very good chance that Butler will be back in the Timberwolves lineup before the end of this month. 

MORE CELTICS:

Still, that shouldn’t diminish how much Butler has meant to the Timberwolves this season, and how his absence may very well be the unplanned break the Celtics need as they face off against Minnesota tonight. 

Butler was named an All-Star this past season and prior to his meniscus injury, a case could be made that he was playing at a borderline league-MVP level.

In 56 games this year, Butler is averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. It’s the kind of across-the-board production that has made him one of the game’s top players, and difficult to replace.

“You can’t replace Jimmy individually,” said Minnesota head coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau. “So we know we have to do it collectively. It’s an opportunity for other guys to grow. We have to play to our strengths, cover up our weaknesses and play with great tenacity.”

That’s certainly an apt description of Celtics basketball this season, which is on the doorstep of having the best record in the East despite playing all but five minutes of this season without Hayward, who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season opener. 

The Timberwolves have seen from afar how the Celtics galvanized themselves in the days and weeks following Hayward’s injury, putting together a season of success that has Boston record-wise among the top teams in the NBA. 

MORE BOSTON SPORTS:

Minnesota’s Jamal Crawford is one of the Timberwolves who has experienced what it’s like to have to pick up the slack when a key player is out of the mix. 

While playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, Crawford went through that on two separate occasions with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, respectively. 

Another Minnesota player, Taj Gibson, went through that in Chicago with Derrick Rose. 

That experience, Crawford says, will aid him in his efforts to help his youthful teammates navigate what’s expected to be a difficult and challenging period of time. 

“The more we lean on each other, the better we are collectively and the better chance we have of winning that night,” Crawford said. 

Injuries or not, Thibodeau is doing his part to make sure his team understands how important these games leading into the playoffs are for their future. 

“We have to be ready to play from the start,” Thibodeau said. “This is the time of year where everything is ramped up.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Thibodeau has Minnesota on right track

bulls-thibodeau-040114.jpg

Celtics-Timberwolves preview: Thibodeau has Minnesota on right track

BOSTON – The Minnesota Timberwolves are doing the seemingly unthinkable when it comes to Tom Thibodeau-coached teams – they’re getting buckets.

Boston’s defense will indeed be put to the test tonight against a Timberwolves team that ranks among the league’s top scoring clubs.

Minnesota is averaging 108.4 points per game which ranks seventh in the NBA, a significant improvement from the teams he coached in Chicago.

One of the keys to Minnesota’s improved play has been the addition of Jimmy Butler who played for Thibodeau in Chicago.

This season, his first with Minnesota, Butler is averaging 21.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.

“He’s just entering his prime,” Thibodeau told NBC Sports Boston, referring to Butler. “He’s a complete player, plays both sides of the ball. And his veteran leadership … he’s already gone through a lot of the things Karl (Anthony-Towns) and Andrew (Wiggins) are just starting to go through. That’ll be very beneficial to those two guys.”

In addition to Butler, Minnesota also added former all-star Jeff Teague and veteran sixth man Jamal Crawford.

Having more proven veterans has provided some much-needed stability to a franchise that’s clearly turning the corner towards respectability and has them on track to making the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

However, they still have this nasty habit of letting late-game leads slip away from them.

Last season, only Charlotte (14) and Philadelphia (14) blew more leads going into the fourth quarter of games, than Minnesota (12).

This season, the Timberwolves have lost seven such games which is tied with the Chicago Bulls for the most blown leads going into the fourth.

“We definitely have to do a better job of finishing games, for sure,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant coach. “I think having more guys who have been in those situations, found success in those situations, is really going to help us, hopefully, get over the hump this season.”

Getting over the hump has been one of the Celtics’ strengths most of this season.

Boston (31-10) has the best record in the Eastern Conference ,partly due to the ability to overcome some pretty steep deficits to some quality foes.

Of Boston’s 31 wins, seven have come after trailing by at least 13 points. That includes a 99-98 win over Houston on Dec. 28, a game in which Boston fell behind by as many as 26 points in the third quarter before rallying for the win.

A big part of Boston’s success has been the relatively steady play of their defense, which has been aided by having a roster that has more players than past years whose strength lies in their length and athleticism. 

"It's really important," said coach Brad Stevens. "It's all about being versatile and switch."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

30 teams in 30 days: New faces have T-Wolves poised to end playoff drought

minnesota-timberwolves-jimmy-butler-30-teams-in-30-days.jpg

30 teams in 30 days: New faces have T-Wolves poised to end playoff drought

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Minnesota Timberwolves. 
 

The days of being young, on-the-rise Timberpups seem to be giving way to a more experienced, battle-tested group that should be good enough to get the Minnesota Timberwolves in the playoffs this season after more than a decade.
 
“We knew going into the offseason we had a lot of holes to fill,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, told CSNNE.com. “We were pleased with our young players have developed. We wanted to surround them with the right kind of players.”

Thibodeau, who doubles as the team’s president of basketball operations, made one of the biggest offseason splashes in trading for one of his former players in Chicago, Jimmy Butler.
 
Not only did Minnesota add one of the best two-way players in the NBA, but a bona fide leader for a team that’s long on talent but painfully shallow when it comes to experience in this league.
 
“He’s just entering his prime,” Thibodeau said of Butler. “He’s a complete player, plays both sides of the ball. And his veteran leadership … he’s already gone through a lot of the things Karl [Anthony-Towns] and Andrew [Wiggins] are just starting to go through. That’ll be very beneficial to those two guys.”
 
Indeed, Towns and Wiggins showed great promise last season.
 
But the lack of experience Thibodeau spoke of really stood out at the absolute worst time – the fourth quarter - in a lot of games.

Of those 14 teams that didn't make the NBA playoffs last season, only Charlotte (14) and Philadelphia (14) blew more leads going into the fourth quarter of games, than Minnesota (12).
 
“We definitely have to do a better job of finishing games, for sure,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant coach. “I think having more guys who have been in those situations, found success in those situations, is really going to help us, hopefully, get over the hump this season.”
 
In addition to Butler, the Timberwolves added point guard Jeff Teague and one of the game’s all-time great sixth men in Jamal Crawford.
  
It all adds up to a Timberwolves team that’s growing up before our eyes, a team that’s poised to end a 13-year playoff drought.
 
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Jimmy Butler (Chicago); Jeff Teague (Indiana); Jamal Crawford (Atlanta); Taj Gibson (Oklahoma City).
 
Key losses: Ricky Rubio (Utah); Zach LaVine (Chicago); Kris Dunn (Chicago).
 
Rookies of note: Justin Patton.
 
Expectations:
50-32 (2nd in the Northwest Division, fifth in the West).