By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC at MIN
The Big Picture
After six preseason games and three weeks of practice, the Thunder’s 82-game regular season began in Minnesota against the Timberwolves in a back-and-forth game that resulted in a 115-108 loss for OKC. A scrappy 27-5 run by the Thunder turned a 16-point deficit into a 6-point OKC lead towards the end of the third quarter. Minnesota responded with 7-straight points spanning the final 40 seconds of the third quarter and the first 11 seconds of the fourth, but the Thunder hung in and kept the deficit within single digits for the entirety of the final frame. Inside the final two minutes, however, the Thunder couldn’t get enough scores and Minnesota made too many free throws for the comeback to be completed.
Paris: Rather than try to match size for size against the towering 7-foot frontline of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, the Thunder looked to play to their advantages offensively. With a starting lineup of Shai Gilgoeus-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams and Aleksej Pokuševski, the Thunder worked to play with speed in the open court. After each rebound, the Thunder’s offense ignited in transition and took the looks that were created on the break. Many of OKC’s transition looks in the early going came from the Thunder’s defense that forced three turnovers in the first five minutes of action.
Nick: That benefit of going small for the Thunder included the ability to run down loose balls, using quickness against size. On one possession the Thunder gathered three offensive rebounds, including a pair by Aleksej Pokuševski, which led to a top of the key 3-pointer by Kenrich Williams. Though the Thunder got off to a cold shooting start to this game, the way Mark Daigneault’s versatile, nimble lineup was able to generate extra opportunities helped OKC stay in this one. The Thunder finished the game with 16 offensive rebounds and a plus-two mark on the glass overall against the much bigger Timberwolves.
Nick: Through the flow of motion offense, the Thunder employed a nice wrinkle, some post-up playmaking from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to find Jalen Williams at the top of the arc for a catch-and-shoot 3. One of Gilgeous-Alexander’s goals as a leader is to continue making his teammates better, and getting an open, in rhythm look for a rookie in his NBA debut is a sure-fire way to do exactly that. Gilgeous-Alexander racked up five total assists for the game as a part of a balanced offensive performance with five Thunder players in double figures and with 11 of the 13 players who saw minutes getting in the scoring column.
Nick: The Thunder plans to continue uncovering what each of its players is capable of throughout the season and proved that in the very first game of the season. Midway through the third quarter, Daigneault inserted two-way forward Eugene Omoruyi into the game. The physical, ferocious 2nd-year man was immediately assigned to defend Karl-Anthony Towns, putting his body between Towns and the basket possession after possession. He did a nice job boxing out the Timberwolves’ big man then stymying a drive attempt on the next possession. Omoruyi’s presence on the floor coincided with that massive 27-5 Thunder run. Despite playing just four games last season at the NBA level, Omoruyi had a big impact in his 14:34 of this one.
Paris: The Thunder went on a 12-0 run to close their deficit down to just four points with five and a half minutes left in the third quarter. It started on the defensive end where OKC amped up the pressure. Coming up with 50-50 loose ball opportunities, applying more force around the rim and turning up the pressure in passing lanes gave OKC the window it needed to bring the game back to within arms reach and ultimately take its first lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Thunder received productive minutes from Eyugene Omoruyi when he stepped into the game midway through the third quarter. Using his physicality to go up against the larger presence against Karl Anthony-Towns, the two-way forward wrestled away rebounds, drew fouls and sacrificed his body for charges. Omoruyi played a big part in the Thunder’s run to take the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Nick: Rookie Ousmane Dieng hustled and helped track down a loose rebound while the Thunder was undermanned in a 4-on-5 situation, with Darius Bazley still on the ground after being hit in the face. In a back-and-forth battle in the early stages of the fourth quarter, it was a possession OKC had to have, and Dieng was first to the ball. Right after that came another hustle play, as Kenrich Williams took a charge and drew Anthony Edwards' fourth foul with 10:23 to go. Scrappiness and effort were the biggest factors in the Thunder keeping this one close, not necessarily execution and precision. As the Thunder matures, the latter qualities can combine with the former in exciting fashion.
Paris: The Thunder’s grit and competitiveness was on full display even until the final seconds of the game. With a minute left, the Thunder trailed by five points. Defensively, OKC continued to come up with the necessary stops to stay in the game. Offensively, the Thunder continued to generate quality looks at the rim that just wouldn’t fall their way. However, even with the clock dwindling, the Thunder refused to let up on the gas. Even with just 14 second left on the flock, the Thunder still trailed by just five points. A floater by Tre Mann shaved the lead down to three points with just 12 seconds left which put extra pressure on Minnesota to make a play and stretch the game out to the very last moments.
Quotes of the Night
“We, at times, at our best tonight, really put them in some dilemmas on both ends of the floor and on the glass. When we were active and we were feisty we were hard to deal with tonight and it gave us a real spark. We needed more of it obviously in order to come away with a win but there were positives, there were negatives, things we can learn from and it's just the starting point.” – Coach Daigneault
“I know how much (this opportunity) means to me and my family. Where I come from, it's not easy to make it, so just coming out here and having this opportunity to do it this year, I’m willing to give it my all out there every night.” – Eugene Omoruyi
“It was scrappy. That's the way we're going to have to win games - the little things, loose balls, charges. Little things like that are gonna give us an edge over our opponents. So I think scrappy games should suit our guys.” – Josh Giddey
The Thunder return to Oklahoma City where they’ll have a day off on Thursday before hitting the road again to take on the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.