Firing coach after 22-point win? Timberwolves make history with Tom Thibodeau

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The Timberwolves beat the Magic by 17 Friday. The Timberwolves beat the Lakers by 22 Sunday afternoon.

Sunday evening, the Timberwolves fired Tom Thibodeau.

The Minnesota president-coach was reportedly surprised by the timing of his dismal. Who could blame him?

Thibodeau was clearly on thin ice. Even before the Jimmy Butler saga, Thibodeau was wearing on upper management. When Thibodeau finally traded Butler to the 76ers, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was reportedly envisioning a post-Thibodeau future. It seemed Thibodeau was coaching for his job.

That’s why Thibodeau getting fired yesterday was so shocking. He had just guided Minnesota to a 22-point win. That’s the most-lopsided win by a coach prior to getting fired in-season.

Here’s every non-interim coach who won his final game before getting fired* in-season, sorted by margin of victory:


*Best I can determine. Sometimes, there’s a thin line between a coach getting forced out and resigning.

The only time a coach guided his team to a larger win before departing mid-season was Del Harris guiding the Bucks to a 32-point win then resigning in 1991.

Adding insult, Thibodeau is one of just eight coaches fired in-season despite winning consecutive games to end his tenure. Here’s all eight, sorted by their final win streak:


Paul Westhead’s Lakers were on a five-game win streak when they fired him in 1981 (seemingly due to a Magic Johnson trade request), but Los Angeles’ combined margin of victory in those five games was just 11 points. Thibodeau topped that in each of his final two wins.

Only Thibodeau (+17, +22), Maurice Cheeks with the 2014 Pistons (+16, +17) and David Blatt with the 2016 Cavaliers (+13, +13) won each of their final two games by even six points and still got fired in-season.

If Thibodeau wasn’t right for the Timberwolves, firing him was the correct move. A couple January wins doesn’t change the larger picture.

But if Thibodeau wasn’t the right coach for the Timberwolves, why didn’t they fire him before the Orlando game Friday? What changed while Thibodeau was guiding Minnesota to a pair of solid victories over the weekend?

If nothing else, the timing was strange.