MINNEAPOLIS – As it had been in the previous three meetings between the Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves this season, it was a nip-and-tuck game through the first half and to start the third quarter on Wednesday night. After that, though, shots stopped dropping for Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club, and most everything, including bailout shots, fell for Minnesota.
In the second half of the Thunder’s 104-88 loss to its Northwest Division rival on Wednesday, the Timberwolves knocked down 21-of-34 (61.8 percent) second half shot attempts while the Thunder managed just 14 makes on 40 attempts (35 percent). The margin was even more stark at the three-point line, where Minnesota made 5-of-7 shots and the Thunder made only 3-of-15.
In general, the Thunder got the types of looks it wants, catch-and-shoot attempts for Carmelo Anthony and shots off movement for Paul George, yet the perennial All-Star duo hit just 10-of-33 shots combined.
“Carmelo got some really good looks that I feel comfortable with him taking. Same thing with Paul,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said.
“We were getting good looks. With a team like this that does a lot of switching, I thought we got shots that we’ve been shooting all season, a lot of catch and shoot opportunities,” George agreed.
It wasn’t a matter of types of shots or ease of offense, however. Over the final 24 minutes, the Thunder forced its foes into 10 non-paint two point jumpers. The problem was the Minnesota made seven of them, including one by Jimmy Butler with one on the shot clock, a split second after the ball was fumbled on the ground and nearly in the possession of Paul George. That bucket fell with 3:45 remaining, and gave the Timberwolves a double-digit lead again, and it stayed that way the rest of the night.
“They have shot makers. They have All-Stars,” George said. “It’s a tough shot. He made it.”
“A lot of the shots were out of rhythm so to speak where they kind of improvised and generated and created their own look,” Donovan added.
Overall the Thunder’s energy and effort was there from a defensive standpoint. Minnesota simply got hot. After falling behind 10-2 in the opening minutes, the Thunder clamped down and held the Timberwolves to just 39.1 percent shooting in the first half, resulting in a tie game at halftime. Russell Westbrook was diving on the floor for loose balls and the Thunder was hustling, but it just wasn’t enough to gain traction.
“I thought the energy was fine tonight. We did a really good job energy wise,” George stated. “We challenged, we battled, especially on a back to back. I thought that was there. We came out, and I felt as a group that we fought.”
It clearly wasn’t the defense early, rather the biggest problem for the Thunder in the first quarter was sloppiness with the ball on offense. In the opening 12 minutes the Thunder managed to shoot 47.4 percent, but turned the ball over 7 times, leading to 7 Timberwolves points, and allowing Minnesota to take five more field goal attempts in the period.
“It wasn’t like one person, it was our team,” Donovan explained. “We bobbled some balls, had some balls slapped out of our hands, maybe a couple ill-advised passes.”
“Just better execution is what it comes down to. Our execution offensively wasn’t as good as it should be,” George added.
The bright spot for the Thunder, and the reason it had a fighting chance until the closing minutes on Wednesday night, was Westbrook. Every time the Thunder needed a jolt of energy, he provided it. With a rim-to-rim attack in transition, an un-guardable pull-up elbow jumper or a hustle play to track down a loose ball, he tried to keep his team in it. It showed on the stat sheet with 38 points on 15-of-23 (65.2 percent) shooting, plus 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals.
“Russ is special, his ability night-in and night-out to have a mismatch,” George said. “His explosiveness, his speed, it’s hard for teams to guard. You can’t really prepare or scout for a guy that is as explosive and can finish as good as Russ can around the rim. He’s going to have nights like tonight all season long. It’s on us to help carry that load.”
Highlights: Thunder vs. Timberwolves
By the Numbers
15-of-23 – Shooting numbers for Russell Westbrook, who was extremely efficient in scoring 38 points to go with 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals
20 – Turnovers by the Thunder tonight, leading to 18 Timberwolves points
40.5 – Shooting percentage for the Thunder on the night, including just 6-for-25 from behind the three-point line
The Last Word
“We’ve done it before, having a rough start, a rough patch in the season and then picking it up and playing at a high level. We know we can get back to that. We just have to stick together, understand that we’re not playing well, but that can change and we can make it change.” – forward Paul George