The bottom half of the Western Conference playoff race has been utter chaos since the All-Star break. There were significant stretches when just a game or two separated the No. 4 seed from the No. 10 seed, and it was so close that the eighth and final spot wasn’t even decided until the last night of the regular season on Wednesday.
Fortuitously enough, the two teams vying for the coveted No. 8 seed were pitted against one another in what ultimately amounted to a winner-take-all play-in game between the Minnesota Timbewolves and the Denver Nuggets, broadcast in prime time.
You couldn’t have written a more dramatic ending. And the game itself did not disappoint. It was a slugfest from wire to wire, but in the end, the Wolves emerged victorious, to earn their first playoff berth in 14 years with a 112-106 overtime victory.
Given the gravity of the moment, superstars on both sides rose to the occasion, and then some. Jimmy Butler led the way for Minnesota with 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists, while Karl-Anthony Towns added a huge double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds.
They were able to withstand a valiant effort from Nikola Jokic, who finished with 35 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists, including a 17-point third quarter.
While the stars showed out, it was Minnesota’s role players that had some of their biggest plays, none more so than Taj Gibson, who locked up Jokic to get a steal on the final Nuggets possession of regulation among other strong defensive plays.
There was arguably a lot more riding in this playoff berth for the Wolves, who haven’t qualified for the postseason since Kevin Garnett’s heyday in Minnesota in 2004. Last month, the team ensured that they would finish the regular season with a winning record for the first time in 13 years, but with Jimmy Butler’s addition last summer, the expectations were much higher, especially given their talented young core.
For their troubles, they’ve earned a first-round matchup against the red-hot Rockets, but nonetheless, fans in Minnesota are celebrating tonight after ending one of the longest playoff droughts in league history.