Thunder Survive Shootout in Minneapolis, Defeat Timberwolves 132-126
The Oklahoma City Thunder (47-33) won their third straight on Sunday afternoon in Minnesota, defeating the Timberwolves (36-44) in a 132-126 shootout at the Target Center. Russell Westbrook and Paul George were the high-men for the Thunder, both scoring 27 points, with Westbrook recording his 31st triple-double on the season by adding 10 rebounds and 15 assists. The Thunder survived a three-headed scoring attack led by Karl Anthony Towns (35 points), Andrew Wiggins (24 points), and Dario Saric (23 points). Dennis Schroder carried the Thunder home with 12 straight points for the Thunder in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder’s opening possession resulted in a corner three by Terrance Ferguson, with another triple from the same corner by the second-year man capping a 12-2 OKC run to start the game. Wolves interim head coach Ryan Saunders assigned rookie Josh Okogie with matching up on Westbrook out of the gate, and the Brodie had his way with the Georgia Tech product. Westbrook left Okogie in the dust with a nasty crossover and finished the play with a one-legged pull-up over Dario Saric. Westbrook amassed nine points and five assists in first, with the Thunder leading 38-31 after one.
Minnesota tied the game at 46 midway through the second with a 12-3 run after Anthony Tolliver’s three-pointer while drawing the foul. The Timberwolves took their first lead of the afternoon at the 5:12 mark with Tolliver’s mismatch over Schroder on the block, however it wasn’t for long as Westbrook answered with his second triple of the half. As is par for the course, Wiggins was having himself a day against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half. The usual thorn in the Thunder’s side led the way for the Wolves at the break, scoring 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 2-of-2 from deep. Despite Wiggins’ sustained hot streak against the Thunder, OKC led 62-60 at the half.
The hot hand from Wiggins picked up right where he left off to start the third, hitting his first three shots before Westbrook simply said, “Nah” after forcing his first miss in the second half. Just when Wiggins started to cool off, Saric went bonkers for Minnesota. Saric hit four triples in the quarter and a pair of Tyus Jones free-throws capped a 22-5 scoring run for Minnesota as their lead was 10 with 2:37 to go in the quarter. With the Thunder on the brink, Paul George scored eight straight points with a three-pointer and five from the stripe as the Thunder closed the quarter on a 12-4 run. Minnesota led 97-95 headed into the fourth. The Timberwolves shot a ridiculous 60.9 percent from the floor in the third.
Schroder found his groove in crunch time — his layup at the 10:13 mark put the Thunder up two, but he was just getting started. Following a Timberwolves timeout, a Steven Adams steal lead to a pair of Shroder free throws. On the Thunder’s next trip down, Schroder caught Cam Reynolds in the air and converted another pair of freebies. Schroder followed that up with another layup and a pull-up from the elbow — an individual 10-0 run courtesy of Schroder put the Thunder up 109-99 with 8:03 to go. Karl Anthony Towns broke the scoring the Thunder scoring run, but Schroder answered with a right-handed layup, making that 12 straight points for the Thunder backup point guard.
Things got interesting after Minnesota strung together a 10-2 run following Towns’ free throws, cutting the Minnesota deficit to four with 3:07 to go. With the Thunder needing to gain further separation, George responded with an elbow jumper, followed by a putback by Towns, keeping the Thunder lead at four. The Thunder and Timberwolves went back-and-forth exchanging buckets entering the final minute as Westbrook went to work sizing up Towns. Westbrook pulled up for the elbow jumper, drew the foul on Towns, and converted the and-one. The Thunder lead was seven with 44.7 seconds remaining.
Minnesota had yet another answer, as KAT’s and-one brought the Timberwolves back to within four with 39.7 seconds left. With the game hanging in the balance, Westbrook drew the foul on Wiggins and nailed both free-throws, the Thunder lead was six with 22.9 ticks remaining. A missed corner three from Saric sealed the victory for the Thunder as they can climb into sixth place in the Western Conference with a Warriors victory over the Clippers on Sunday night.
The Sixth Man: With the Thunder locked up in a tight one early in the fourth, Schroder took matters into his own hands by scoring 12 straight points for the Thunder. His individual 10-0 run put the Thunder up double digits with just over eight minutes remaining. In total, Schroder pitched in 21 points (8/15 FG, 1/3 3P, 4/4 FT). This team goes to another level when he is able to pack this type of scoring punch off the bench.
Mr. Triple-Double: Ryan Saunders essentially dared Westbrook to beat them today, sticking rookies Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop on the former MVP for a majority of the afternoon. Westbrook was in complete control, consistently beating Okogie off the dribble and finding open shooters with his 15 assists. By game’s end, Westbrook had 27 points (10/22 FG, 2/6 3P, 5/7 FT), 15 assists, 10 rebounds, and a steal. The Brodie is playing at a high level when the Thunder need him most with Playoffs starting in less than a week. He’s reached 15 dimes in each of the last three games.
PG: After going 2-of-11 from the field in the first half, George went to work on the Timberwolves in the second half. With the Thunder trailing by double digits late in the third, George’s eight points to close the quarter brought the Thunder to within a single possession going into the fourth. PG finished the day with 27 points (8/22 FG, 4/13 3P, 7/7 FT), seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals. The Thunder will need a more efficient George when the playoffs ramp up.
The Other Guys: Towns exploded in the second half, going 9-of-11 from the floor before concluding his day with 35 points (11/18 FG, 0/1 3P, 13/14 FT), seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block. Towns single-handedly kept the Timberwolves in the game in the fourth quarter, keeping the Timberwolves within two possessions with his scoring answers for the Thunder. Dario Saric’s third quarter felt like a back-breaker for OKC, hitting four three-pointers en route to a 22-5 run which saw the Timberwolves go up by double digits. Saric had some quality looks from the corner in the fourth, but couldn’t convert. Saric ended with 23 points (9/15 FG, 5/9 3P). Wiggins cooled off midway through the third, but he still contributed with 24 points (9/15 FG, 3/5 3P, 3/5 FT).
No Sweep: With the win, the Thunder avoided the season sweep at the hands of Minnesota. The final tally is 1-3 in favor of the T-Wolves.