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Jimmy Butler takes over to launch Minnesota Timberwolves past LA Clippers

From NBA media reports

Jimmy Butler did – actually surpassed – what the Minnesota Timberwolves had in mind when they acquired him in June, scoring 20 of his 33 points in the final 7:08 of the fourth quarter to secure a home victory Sunday over the injury-depleted L.A. Clippers.

The heavy load of hero ball had Butler panting and perspiring down the stretch, and while some of his younger teammates marveled afterward at Butler’s ability to take over and fend off the Clippers, the three-time All-Star cut through all that to address Minnesota’s most pressing issue: defense. Here’s a bit of Star Tribune beat writer Jerry Zgoda’s report:

“I was glad to have the popcorn right there and have the front-row seat for it because it was amazing,” said Towns, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds for his NBA-leading 19th double-double of the season. “I told him coming in that was, just, that was unbelievable. … It was just the degree of difficulty of all those shots. That shows you why he’s such an elite player in the league.”

The Wolves needed it all to beat the sharpshooting of the Clippers’ Austin Rivers and Lou Williams.

In a FSN postgame interview, Butler said, “Sadly as it is, we just outscored them once again. A win is a win, but I want to play some defense one of these games.”

Butler … acknowledged once again his team’s lack of defense, saying it’s a matter of playing smarter rather than harder. He said it’s “not a lack of intensity” or effort.

“Like I said time and time again, we’ve got to start guarding somebody,” said Butler, blaming himself as well as his teammates. “It’s really bad and it’s really noticeable. Lucky enough if your shot is falling, you can still win. But goodness gracious, if it’s not, I’d hate to see which way this game could have went.”

The Wolves, through their first 23 games prior to Sunday, were giving up 107.4 points per game on 48.4 percent field-goal shooting. They rank last in opponents’ FG percentage and 28th in defensive rating. They permitted the Clippers – without Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic – to score 30 points in the fourth quarter and hit 44.1 percent of their 3-pointers, en route to 50.7 percent shooting overall.

When you consider some of the team’s key defensive numbers last season – 106.9 points, 47.4 percent shooting, 27th in defensive rating – it’s clear the Wolves are tilting in the wrong direction. After adding defensive-minded Butler and Taj Gibson, in their second season under like-minded coach Tom Thibodeau.

At 14-10, they’re on pace to win 48 games and snap the organization’s 13-year playoff drought. But the way they’re defending, they’re also on pace for a quick spring exit.

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