Jimmy Butler the answer for more fourth-quarter T’Wolves success

By Jace Frederick

Pioneer Press

Through the quarter pole of the season, the Timberwolves’ fourth quarters were the punch-line of many jokes. No lead was safe with how poorly Minnesota was capable of playing over the final 12 minutes.

Through 22 games, Minnesota’s fourth-quarter offense was bad. Its defense was worse. Putting the two together, the Wolves were being outscored by 15.4 points per 100 possessions in the final frame — far and away the worst mark in the NBA.

But things have taken a drastic turn for the better for Minnesota over the last 10 games. Over that span, the Wolves are outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, eighth-best in the NBA.

That’s important.

“All these games are going to be close, and you’ve got to make tough plays,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you look at every fourth quarter, the intensity level is different, there’s a physicality to it that’s different, and you have to understand that. And the game is called differently. Putting all that together, you have to read what (your opponent) is trying to do, then you have to play defense.”

Ah, defense, the side of the game Thibodeau tries to direct all attention toward. Said Jimmy Butler recently, “I don’t think y’all ever talk about us scoring the ball and all that good stuff, I like to talk about the defensive effort.”

Well, maybe it’s time to talk offense. Yes, the Wolves’ fourth-quarter defense has improved of late. Minnesota made enough stops in the final three minutes Monday to rally past Portland, and held Denver to 47 percent shooting while forcing five turnovers in the final 12 minutes on Wednesday.

But Minnesota’s fourth-quarter defense has just been less bad over the past 10 games. The Wolves are still giving up 109 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, ranking 22nd in the NBA.

The offense is where Minnesota is making its hay. Over the first 22 games, the Wolves were scoring 100.3 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter.

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