The Oklahoma City Thunder (25-15) lost their second straight game on Tuesday night, falling 119-117 to the Minnesota Timberwolves (20-21) at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder had an opportunity to either tie or win the game facing a two-point deficit with the ball and 15.5 seconds remaining, but two separate three-point attempts by Russell Westbrook failed to drop as time expired. Minnesota’s interim head coach Ryan Saunders came out victorious in his Timberwolves’ debut after Tom Thibodeau was fired on Sunday evening. Andrew Wiggins dominated the Thunder once again, putting up 40 points (11-24 FG, 2-of-4 3P, 16-of-18 FT), 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block.
The Thunder struggled out of the gate, despite Minnesota All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns spending the final 8:32 of the first quarter on the bench after picking up his second foul. Westbrook recorded four turnovers in the opening frame, while the Thunder forced only one turnover defensively. The Timberwolves led 29-23 at the end of the quarter.
Oklahoma City’s offense caught fire in the second, shooting 61.3 percent from the field. After trailing by double-figures with just under six minutes remaining in the half, the Thunder outscored the Minnesota 22-12 to close out the quarter. Terrance Ferguson’s individual 8-0 run put the Thunder on the high-side at 61-59 with just under a minute remaining. Minnesota was able to tie it 64-64 when a desperation three from Wiggins found the bottom of the net with four seconds left on the clock. Wiggins led all scorers with 24 points (8-of-15 FG, 2-of-3 3P, 6-of-6 FT), five rebounds, and two assists at the half.
The third quarter featured yet another scary scene for Thunder faithful, as Nerlens Noel was forced to exit the court on a stretcher after taking an inadvertent elbow from Wiggins while attempting a dunk. Noel appeared unconscious after hitting his head on the court after taking the initial impact from Wiggins. The Timberwolves closed the quarter on a 17-8 run, taking a 96-93 lead into the final quarter.
(Replay of Noel’s fall below. It’s hard to watch.)
Both teams came out swinging in what turned out to be an absolute slug-fest of a fourth quarter. Westbrook came alive as the Thunder strung together an 8-0 run after Steven Adams’ dunk cut the deficit to one with 4:51 remaining. Towns answered with a three on Minnesota’s next possession, with Paul George matching a three of his own on the Thunder’s following trip down the floor. Oklahoma City’s run ballooned to 14-4 when a Westbrook three gave the Thunder a 111-110 lead with 3:32 to go.
Wiggins put Minnesota back in front by one after his pull-up jumper at the 2:12 mark. He came up big on the defensive end the next trip down, blocking a corner three attempt by George. Westbrook’s mid-range jumper, his seventh straight make from the field, put Oklahoma City back up by one with 1:14 remaining. A backbreaking sequence followed for the Thunder, as they were unable to secure two separate defensive rebounds, sending Wiggins to the line with 55.4 seconds left. Minnesota regained the lead after the former Jayhawk converted both freebies. With the game hanging in the balance, the Thunder missed some pretty wide-open looks. George’s three-point attempt didn’t hit and Josh Okogie’s corner three all but sealed the victory for Minnesota, putting the Wolves up four with 26.8 seconds left on the clock.
Things got unexpectedly interesting after Westbrook made his first pair of free-throws, after another open three from George didn’t fall, bringing the Thunder within two with 21 seconds remaining. The Thunder trapped backup point guard Tyus Jones, forcing the former Duke Blue Devil into a travel. The Thunder had a chance to either send it to overtime or steal one with a three but Westbrook forced a less than ideal look from three over Towns. Adams was able to secure the offensive rebound, sending the ball back to Westbrook for another heave from three with the clock approaching triple zeroes. The shot found nothing but air as George was unable to send the put-back attempt home to force overtime.
Nerlens Noel: Over the past 12 months the Thunder have seen three different players taken off the court by way of a stretcher. With 5:16 left in the third quarter, Noel was on the receiving end of a Wiggins elbow as he was going up for a dunk attempt over the Thunder backup big. Noel looked to be immediately unconscious, as he wasn’t able to catch himself on the way down, banging his head directly on the court. He remained down on the floor for several minutes before being taken off the court on a stretcher. Per Royce Young, he’s currently at OU Medical Center. That’s all we got.
Not for the faint of heart:
Like Father, Like Son: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor decided to shake things up on Sunday evening by firing Tom Thibodeau after a 22-point victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. Ryan Saunders, the 32-year-old son of the late Flip Saunders, made his debut Tuesday night as the interim head coach. Ryan spent five years under Flip in Washington before joining the Timberwolves staff in 2014. He’s officially undefeated.
Thorn in Thunder’s Side: Wiggins put together another masterful performance as a visitor inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, scoring 40 points (11-of-24 FG, 2-of-4 3P, 16-of-18 FT), as well as a season-high 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block. Wiggins continues to tear the Thunder up over the past couple of seasons.
We Meet Again: Tensions were raised 61 seconds after Noel was forced to leave when Minnesota point guard Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder were caught up in a scuffle. Schroder definitely initiated the action, with Teague catching an ejection after shoving Schroder on two separate occasions. Clearly, no love has been lost out of these former Atlanta Hawks teammates.
Aqua-Kiwi: Adams was flexing his muscle throughout, scoring 20 points (8-of-9 FG, 4-of-6 FT) and 12 rebounds. Adams found himself in foul trouble in the second half, along with Towns, but that didn’t stop him from having his fingerprints all over this one.
Brodie’s Comeback Falls Just Short: Westbrook’s struggles with his shot continued tonight in the first half, despite his willingness to pile up the assists. After starting 4-of-13 from the field, the Brodie started attacking the rim, living in the paint on his way to recording seven straight makes from the field. It’s his final two shots that will have the national media talking, and for good reason, but let’s not lose sight of the performance Westbrook put up tonight. In total, he ended with 25 points (11-of-22 FG, 1-of-6 3P, 2-of-2 FT), 16 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and seven turnovers. Those three-point attempts simply have to come down at some point, right?
Ferg. Terrance Ferguson tied a season-high in scoring with 14 points (the third time he’s done it), shooting 5-of-8 and a pristine 4-of-4 from long range. He was a team-high +12 in his 25 minutes of action. He didn’t see the floor in the fourth quarter — which didn’t make a tremendous amount of sense.