LOS ANGELES -- Rasual Butler and the Los Angeles Clippers lost their first four games and their injured No. 1 draft pick during an opening week that could only be described as horrific -- or maybe Clipperific.
At least they capped that week with a tenacious final quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves to remove themselves from the list of the NBA's winless teams.
Butler's first start for the Clippers was an echo of this tumultuous start to Los Angeles' season. The new forward went 3 for 15 from the field and managed just 12 points, but still coolly hit four free throws in the final 19.4 seconds to hold off the Wolves' final rally.
"It took a lot of resilience and toughness to finish like that in our fifth game in seven days," Butler said. "We didn't want to use that schedule as an excuse. That's what we talked about in the huddle before the game, and we lived up to it."
Gordon scored 17 points and Baron Davis had 13 points and eight assists for the Clippers, who also snapped a three-game home losing streak to the Timberwolves.
"We all felt a sense of urgency to get ourselves out of this situation," said Davis, who went 2 for 10, but hit a key 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter. "Five games in seven days, that's a tough way to start. We knew this win would be hard to come by."
Gordon's basket in traffic put the Clippers up 88-86, and the clubs traded scores until Ryan Hollins' dunk with 13.2 seconds left trimmed Los Angeles' lead to 91-90. After Butler's last two free throws, Corey Brewer badly missed a well-guarded 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Al Jefferson scored 24 points and Brewer had 14 for Minnesota, which never reclaimed the lead after losing it midway through a surprisingly tense fourth quarter in which neither team went ahead by more than four points.
"We haven't yet gotten to the point where we know what play we're going to run with a low-clock situation and no timeouts when you've got to get the ball up the floor," new Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "That's my fault that we haven't had the time to work on plays in that situation, but I like the fact that they got back in the ballgame and gave themselves a chance to win."
The Clippers didn't match last season's 0-6 start, and their roster seems to possess ample talent even without college star Blake Griffin, who's out until at least mid-December with a broken kneecap. That talent finally was on display against Minnesota, led by another strong game from Kaman, who tapped a loose ball in the final moments to prolong a key Clippers possession.
The Clippers' victory and Sacramento's win over Memphis left New Jersey, Indiana and Golden State as the NBA's only remaining winless teams -- and the Pacers and the Warriors have played only two games apiece.
Rambis returned to Los Angeles for the first time since leaving his assistant coaching job with the NBA champion Lakers in the offseason to oversee the rebuilding project in Minnesota.
"It's going to take some time," Jefferson said. "Maybe it'll take the whole year for us to just get it down pat, the triangle offense and the way he wants to run it. So we've just got to be patient. We're still in games. We had a good one last night [in Phoenix], and we had a chance to win this one tonight."
The Clippers led by 13 points in the third quarter, but Minnesota tied it late in the period during a 14-4 run. A lead change or a tie occurred on each of the first 10 scoring plays of the fourth quarter until Davis hit his only basket of the final three quarters to put Los Angeles up 84-80.
Rambis, the longtime Lakers player who also briefly coached the club in 1999, had never been in Staples Center's visitors' locker room, which he pronounced "adequate," and he was taken aback by new wood paneling in the hall outside.
"It's always nice to be home," Rambis said. "Got the chance to sleep in my own bed. Got to see the sun shine."
Oleksiy Pecherov scored 13 points -- just two shy of his career high -- after Minnesota declined to pick up his contract option for next season earlier in the day. ... The Timberwolves return to Staples Center to play the Clippers again in three weeks. ... Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair faced the Timberwolves for the first time since the Clippers acquired them in July in a multiplayer deal sending Quentin Richardson to Minnesota.