Highlights: OKC vs.MIN
THE REPORTERS' NOTEBOOK
OKC erupted in the third quarter, but ultimately came up short down the stretch.
By Nick Gallo and Paris Lawson | okcthunder.com
The Big Picture
Box Score: OKC vs. MIN
On Friday, the Thunder faced the Timberwolves for the fourth and final time this year, marking the earliest in the season that OKC has been done with a division foe. That familiarity bred a game of back-and-forth runs, with an 11-4 burst by the Thunder to start the seconnd quarter, then a 15-0 Minnesota response.
The Timberwolves led by as many as 14, but the Thunder, as the league’s best third-quarter team this season, burst out of the halftime locker room on a 12-3 run, then closed with an electrifying sequence that caused Paycom Center to erupt. After Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stopped and dropped a mid-range jumper, Lindy Waters III stole the inbounds pass and Aaron Wiggins buried a 3 at the buzzer to cap a 21-4 run by the Thunder to close the period. OKC outscored Minnesota by 16 in the third, going +10 in that frame for the sixth time this season.
In the fourth quarter the Thunder went small, switching everything defensively down the stretch and trapping Minnesota guard Anthony Edwards early out top. A standstill, contested 3-pointer from the left corner by Austin Rivers gave the Timberwolves a late lead though, and the Thunder’s final heave at the buzzer missed, resulting in a 112-110 loss.
Nick: The Thunder racked up eight of its 18 total second-chance points on its first three possessions of the game, including a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer in the left corner for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and another at the top of the key for Aleksej Pokuševski. The latter has been a 39.5 percent shooter on catch-and-shoot 3s this year, while any opportunity for Gilgeous-Alexander to line up an open shot off the catch is welcome, let alone on the very first offensive possession of the game. That bucket was just the start of a sensational offensive night where the Thunder racked up 29 assists.
Paris: Josh Giddey picked up his dribble in the middle of the lane, surrounded by Minnesota jerseys. In one motion, he snapped a bounce pass to a cutting Jalen Williams who finished the play with a one-handed slam. The ball movement and player movement is a staple of OKC’s offense and has been loud as of late. Coming into Friday night’s game, the Thunder registered an assist rate of 60% or better in three of its last four games.
Paris: Lu Dort attacked the left side of the lane and looked as though he might lay the ball up, but instead he stopped it off to a cutting Aleksej Pokuševski. The 7-footer caught the ball in stride, elevated and navigated the ball in mid-air to bank it off the glass away from the defending arms of Minnesota’s defense. Pokuševski finished the night with nine points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal.
Nick: Jalen Williams buried a pull up jumper going to his left, stopping and popping at the elbow and rising up over his defender for two of his nine first-half points. Williams was once again efficient in this one, as he came into the game having shot 50 percent or better from the floor in 17 of his 24 games to start his career. That’s remarkable efficiency for a guard like Williams, but when two of the shot attempts are no-doubt driving dunks like the ones he got in the first half, that shooting percentage can go up very quickly. Williams finished with a cool 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, above 50 percent once again.
Nick: With four seconds left on the shot clock, Gilgeous-Alexander caught a baseline out-of-bounds pass in the right corner, spun, attacked full speed going left and banked in a jumper off the right side of the backboard and in. Those types of plays come from hours upon hours of sweat equity Gilgeous-Alexander has put in over the years, as he comes back better each season. On Friday, he racked up 10 of his 35 total points in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter, the 36th time this season he has had a double-digit scoring quarter. He kept the foot on the gas with a career-high 23 points in the frame.
Paris: With just a minute left in the third frame, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander zipped the ball over to the left wing to Isaiah Joe. Without any hesitation, Joe cashed in a 3-pointer. On the very next possession, Mike Muscala stole the ball and it was Joe in transition who laid the ball in through contact for the and one and made it a two-point game. The Thunder’s sharp-shooter off the bench finished the night with six points and continues to demonstrate his readiness as a reserve for OKC.
Nick: On a Pokuševski drive and dish, Giddey was ready to immediately attack the closeout by his defender, pushing downhill for one of his patented runners in the lane. That bucket gave the Thunder a 96-95 lead in a game that featured 14 lead changes and 10 ties. A few minutes later, Giddey attacked baseline, spun and scored at the end of the shot clock to cut the deficit back down to 108-107 with 1:36 to go. Giddey’s immediate decisions on the catch are critical to starting the Thunder’s “blender” offense, and can result in high percentage baskets for himself too. He racked up his sixth double-double in his last eight games with an 11-point, 13-rebound, 6-assist night. Out of 80 career games, that was Giddey’s 32nd with at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Paris: Eugene Omoruyi played deep into clutch time for the Thunder on friday night. The two-way wing moved without the ball and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander found him under the rim for an easy reverse in a one-possession game. By the end of the night, Omoruyi chipped in 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting off the bench while also ripping away three steals.
“It's really just trying to make sure that we stay committed to the track we're on. We're on the right track clearly and we're better individually and as a team than we were a year ago and we're better than we were at the beginning of the season. At the end of the day, it's the NBA. It's really hard. You’ve got to be able to take your punches. It's not like you just go out there and throw haymakers against every team. I personally think that these punches, with a group of guys that handle them with resilience and that keep coming, make you stronger. Hopefully that's the case for us. But we have to make that happen too, we can't just sit around and wait for that to happen.” - Mark Daigneault
“Although we're a young team, we have a veteran mindset - all of us. It’s not always gonna go our way. We’ve just got to continue competing and we can't focus on how the game swings. We’ve just got to keep pounding away at it.” - Eugene Omoruyi
The Thunder’s seven-game home stand continues with the second night of a home-home back-to-back—a Saturday night showdown with the Memphis Grizzlies. That 7 p.m. matchup will be the Thunder’s third game in four nights and fifth game in eight nights.