Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Game Recap – Oct. 27, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS – Last Sunday the Thunder and Timberwolves battled until the bitter end, finishing in heart-stopping fashion. Less than a week later, it was time for an encore performance.

The Northwest Division rivals went back and forth all night long in a game that featured an insane 31 lead changes and 15 ties throughout the night. Neither team’s lead rose above 11, and for long stretches, this one was a Western Conference shootout with no resemblance of two teams who project to be amongst the better defenses in the NBA. That is until the final seven minutes of the game, when the Thunder couldn’t get much to the fall while the Timberwolves pulled away for good, 119-116.

Watch: Game Highlights

Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club led by four at 105-101 with 7:35 to go, but after that only made three more field goals: a Carmelo Anthony jumper and two Russell Westbrook layups. The Thunder had a chance down the stretch, but three-point attempts by Paul George, Patrick Patterson and Anthony all missed.

“We got to our spots, we just didn’t get the ball to go down,” Westbrook said. “We’re just trying to figure it out. We’re trying to find ways to obviously be efficient but at the same time making sure guys are in a spot to catch the ball and be effective.”

Just like the game in Oklahoma City, however, the Thunder felt that it gave up this game because of things that happened much earlier than the final minutes of action. Donovan’s club led 39-28 early in the second quarter, but the offense started to stagnate, and the defense was on its heels. The Thunder got into the bonus with five fouls after just 5:13 of play in the second quarter, which caused a whole host of problems in terms of physicality.

“The last six minutes (of the first half), we fouled them too much and we gave them offensive rebounds,” Donovan explained. “Offensively we didn’t have a flow because we were fouling and we were giving up second chance points. We didn’t play as smoothly offensively.”

Donovan has mentioned that fouls are the first stat he looks at when he checks out the box score, and it’s something he’ll address with his team. For the night they fouled Minnesota 29 times, leading to 35 Timberwolves free throw attempts. Many of the fouls came in and-one situations, further compounding the pain.

“That comes down to us playing solid defense and not reaching,” forward Josh Huestis said. “We have talented enough guys defensively that we don’t need to foul them in those positions.”

Second chance points were an absolute killer in the second half for the Thunder, particularly down the stretch when Minnesota seemingly had two cracks at the basket on each possession. Over the first 24 minutes, the Timberwolves racked up just six points after offensive rebounds. In the third and fourth quarters that number was 18 for a total of 24 in the game.

Defensive rebounding was a major area the Thunder wanted to address coming out of the first game with Minnesota, and it reared its head again. With the team generally playing smaller this season, that’s not unexpected, but it’s something the team must monitor and stay vigilant with.

“With their personnel, they’re just instinctively those kind of players,” Donovan noted. “Our ability to rotationally block out and come up with those rebounds is important. They generated a lot of extra possessions because of that.”

“That was the difference in the game,” Donovan said. “Those are things we need to clean up.”

Offensively, the Thunder didn’t have much trouble for most of the game, but the flow did peter out in a few spurts. Westbrook got everyone organized and kept the ball distributed, utilizing the rolling Steven Adams for easy baskets early on. In fact, Adams scored all 20 of his points in the first three quarters of play. Anthony and Paul George each added 23 points, while Westbrook finished with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

“When you go into a game especially when it’s the second time you’re playing these guys in a short period of time, your eyes are open for potential adjustments,” Donovan noted. “We talk about those things, but he’s probably surveying to see the changes that are different from the film that he watched.”

Next up is the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night, as the Thunder must turn around quickly on the second night of a back-to-back to face a young Eastern Conference squad. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

By the Numbers

4 – Players who scored in 20-plus points tonight for the Thunder, just the second time that’s happened in Oklahoma City history, and the first time that’s happened for any NBA team this season

Plus-11 – Rebounding margin for the Timberwolves in the second half alone

50-48.8 – The Thunder’s slim edge in field goal percentage on the night, as both teams blistered the nets- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Last Word

“The third quarter started and both teams just traded baskets for the first six minutes. We didn’t get any stops and neither did they. As we got into that fourth quarter, the difference was the offensive rebounding and the amount of times we put them to the free throw line.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan