Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Karl-Anthony Towns had 26 points and 14 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves ended the NBA’s longest-running playoff drought, beating the Denver Nuggets 112-106 in overtime Wednesday night in the first final-day play-in game in the league in 21 years.
When the final horn blew, the capacity and white-towel-waving crowd at Target Center stood to soak in Minnesota’s first postseason appearance since 2004. Butler flashed a smile of relief as he hugged his teammates and confetti fluttered above the floor. The fans chanted “MVP! “MVP!” as Butler conducted a postgame interview.
Jokic locked in a classic big man battled with Towns, finishing with 35 points and 10 rebounds, but he missed six of his last eight shots after the third quarter as Denver’s late push fell a few points short.
The Timberwolves are moving on to play, gulp, the NBA-best Houston Rockets in the first round.
Will Barton, who had 24 points, made a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock for Denver’s first lead, 104-103, since midway through the first quarter. After Taj Gibson hounded Jokic to force an air-balled 3-point try, Jeff Teague swished a floater with 1:19 left in overtime to put the Wolves back in front for good.
Andrew Wiggins sank two foul shots with 15 seconds remaining to finish with 18 points, and the Wolves were finally on their way to a celebration more than a decade in the making.
at Oklahoma City 137, Memphis 123: Russell Westbrook clinched a triple-double average for the second straight season, Paul George scored 40 points and Oklahoma beat Memphis.
Westbrook entered the night needing 16 rebounds to clinch the triple-double average. He pulled down his 16th rebound with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter and received a standing ovation. He finished with just six points, but had a career-high 20 rebounds and 19 assists.
Steven Adams scored 24 points. and Corey Brewer added 17 for the Thunder, who matched a franchise record with 20 made 3-pointers. Dillon Brooks scored a career-high 36 points for Memphis.
at Philadelphia 130, Milwaukee 95: Joel Embiid and JJ Redick watched from the bench, Ben Simmons had a scoreless first half and Philadelphia still won its 16th consecutive game to take the No. 3 Eastern Conference seed.
Fultz had his first career triple-double with 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Justin Anderson led the Sixers with 25 points, and Dario Saric had 24.
Embiid wore a black mask during warmups to protect his broken bone around his left eye, then changed into gold sneakers and a peach-colored jacket to watch the Sixers romp to a stunning 80-44 lead at the break. Embiid said he will likely miss at least Game 1 of the playoffs this weekend because of the injury.
at New York 110, Cleveland 98: LeBron James played in his 82nd game, scored 10 points and then got some rest for the playoffs in Cleveland’s loss to New York in coach Jeff Hornacek’s likely last game with the Knicks.
James had never played every game in his 15-year NBA career. But he capped a remarkable season in which he seemed to break a record every night by adding another accomplishment to his long list of achievements. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he tried to talk James out of playing, but he gave in and allowed the 33-year-old to extend his record of scoring in double digits to 873 consecutive games before taking him out. James finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 10:33.
Knicks rookie Luke Kornet scored a season-high 23 points.
at Miami 116, Toronto 109, OT: Wayne Ellington scored a career-high 32 points and set Miami’s single-season record for 3-pointers, helping the Heat wrap up the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Ellington finished with eight 3-pointers, giving him 227 for the season. He topped the mark set by Damon Jones, who made 225 in 2004-05. Kelly Olynyk, Dwyane Wade, Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson each scored 11 points for the Heat.
Kyle Lowry scored 28 points for Toronto, which already had the top seed in the East wrapped up.
at New Orleans 122, San Antonio 98: Anthony Davis had 22 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three steals, and New Orleans assured itself no worse than the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
Rajon Rondo had 19 points and 14 assists, Nikola Mirotic had 21 points and 15 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday added 19 points for the Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker and Dejounte Murray each scored 11 points for San Antonio.
at Orlando 101, Washington 92: Rodney Purvis scored 16 points for Orlando and Mario Hezonja finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Jodie Meeks came off the bench to score 18 points for Washington. They lost five of their last six games to take the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
at Boston 110, Brooklyn 97: Aron Baynes led a short-handed Boston lineup with a career-best 26 points and 14 rebounds, carrying the Celtics past Brooklyn.
Jonathan Gibson scored 18 points, Guerschon Yabusele had 16 and Shane Larkin added 12 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for the Celtics. Nik Stauskas scored 18 points for the Nets.
Detroit 119, at Chicago 87: Rookie Luke Kennard scored a career-high 23 points and Eric Moreland set career bests with 16 points and 17 rebounds for Detroit.
Anthony Tolliver had 18 points and Henry Ellenson added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Rookie Lauri Markkanen had 20 points for Chicago.
at Sacramento 96, Houston 83: Willie Cauley-Stein had 22 points and 11 rebounds to help the Kings finish the regular season with a victory over the short-handed Houston Rockets.
With Houston (65-17) already having wrapped up the best record in the NBA, coach Mike D’Antoni opted to rest most of his top players, including starters James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela. The top-seeded Rockets will open the playoffs at home this weekend against Minnesota.
The Kings took advantage of Houston’s depleted lineup and ended another disappointing season off by snapping a seven-game skid against the Rockets. Sacramento finished with a 27-55 record in coach Dave Joerger’s second season, its worst mark since going 24-58 in 2010-11.
Gerald Green scored 31 points to lead the Rockets.
at Portland 102, Utah 93: Damian Lillard had 36 points and 10 assists and the Trail Blazers snapped a four-game losing streak to earn the Northwest Division title. With the win in the regular-season finale, Portland claimed the third seed in the Western Conference and will play sixth-seeded New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Jazz, who saw a six-game winning streak snapped, fell to the fifth seed. They’ll face No. 4 Oklahoma City on the road to open the playoffs.
LAKERS 115, at CLIPPERS 100