Thunder Falls Short in Emotional Comeback Try – OKC 117, MIN 119
Russell Westbrook had the ball in the corner, on the same side of the floor where he had previously hit a monster go ahead three-pointer to cap a 14-4 surge to give the Thunder a fourth quarter lead. The Thunder point guard gave it another go.
The ball rose and clipped the rim, but Steven Adams hustled for it and flipped it back out to Westbrook at the top of the key. Westbrook’s next three was altered and fell short, but Paul George was lingering under the rim for a potential game-tying reverse tip-in. The ball popped onto the backboard but the rim denied it, along with the Thunder’s dramatic comeback hopes.
“We got some looks. Missed them. Move on to the next,” said Westbrook.
“The floor, when Russell drove on the initial action, got a little bit congested,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan. “We maybe could have been a little better with our spacing, but for the most part we got our point guard on their center, which we felt was a pretty good matchup.”
Through the first six minutes of Tuesday’s 119-117 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, both teams vied for control before Minnesota made the first push by turning the Thunder over, getting to the free throw line and scoring off some second chances. Those three facets of the game would be harbingers for the future.
In the second quarter the Timberwolves jumped ahead with a 17-6 run, but the Thunder countered with a 20-8 burst of their own to make it a one-point game at 56-55. By halftime the game was tied thanks to a furious, up-tempo rally marked by eight points from Terrance Ferguson as a part of his 14-point effort on 4-for-4 three-point shooting.
“I’m just always ready. Always got my hands up,” said Ferguson. “I know (Westbrook’s) vision is just out of this world, so I know he see’s everyone on the floor. So I’m just staying ready to knock it down.”
Count 'em. NINE Westbrook assists in first half.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 9, 2019
Back and forth the game went in the third quarter, until the seesaw abruptly halted with a moment that stopped time in Chesapeake Energy Arena. Thunder reserve center Nerlens Noel rose up to contest an Andrew Wiggins drive at the rim but as the Timberwolves forward attacked the basket he elbowed Noel in the face. Already stunned, Noel fell to the floor and couldn’t control his fall and the side of his head hit the floor. Thunder players and doctors immediately rushed over and eventually Noel was taken off on a stretcher and brought to OU Medical Center where he remained under evaluation.
“It’s definitely tough. I said a couple prayers for him and I’ll just try to go check on him if I can,” said forward Jerami Grant.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened. You know obviously Wiggins doesn’t mean to do any of that. That should be said. He shouldn’t be taking any blame for it whatsoever. It was just one of those crazy plays that happen,” added center Steven Adams. “Fortunately, they responded quite quickly, the medical staff and what-not, so it was really good. I felt like it was in the best hands at the time which is good.”
After a play like that, watching a brother prone on the ground, no one would blame the Thunder for being emotional. The first two possessions afterward, the Thunder turned it over. But after that Russell Westbrook took charge, blowing by Wiggins for a pair of lefty layups to push the Thunder’s lead of to 6, its largest of the game.
“Just adjusting,” said Westbrook. “You make in-game adjustments and see kind of how they’re playing you to start. That’s what I did.”
“We did some really good things offensively tonight,” said Donovan in reference to the Thunder’s 50.6 percent shooting on the night. “We moved the ball, we generated some good looks, And I think a lot of the shooting percentages, both from the field, and from the three-point line were by product of some good ball movement.”
After a timeout, however, Minnesota went on a 12-2 run to flip the script, and buckets came the way they had all night, at the free throw line and from behind the three-point line. All game, starting in the first quarter, Minnesota hit contested jumpers as the shot clock horn sounded, boosted by an element of luck that they didn’t need given everything else that went their way.
The Timberwolves shot 40 free throws to the Thunder’s 26 in the game, as the Thunder went into the bonus early in each quarter.
“It was just the free throw line. We just kept sending them there,” said Ferguson. “And that cost us the game.”
Minnesota also turned 15 offensive rebounds into 22 second chance points. Those are two crucial areas of concern for the Thunder every game, but Donovan’s club couldn’t control them tonight.
“Towards the end of the game there were a lot of long rebounds. We just should have gotten them,” Grant said.
“There was some long rebounds we didn’t come up with, but there were a lot of plays around the basket. We didn’t block out on the free throw line at times and we gave up some rebounds there,” Donovan explained. “The one thing about the rebounding is that you can overcome the offensive rebounding when they are not converting, and for the most part we got punished when they offensive rebounded.”
In the end, the Thunder gave itself a chance in the closing moments despite trailing 106-97 with 7:40 to go. Westbrook, who finished with 25 points on 50 percent shooting to go with 16 assists, scored on a driving layup then found Adams for a pair of dunks before Paul George knocked in a three-pointer.
After more Minnesota free throws, Josh Okogie hit a corner three-pointer to put the Timberwolves up 119-115. Westbrook drew a foul and hit both free throws, then Dennis Schröder forced Minnesota guard Tyus Jones into a turnover along the sideline to give the Thunder one more chance. The final shot wouldn’t go down, and the Thunder fell to 25-15 on the season, third in the Western Conference.
“We’re fine. We’ll get it together,” Grant said firmly.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 9, 2019
Highlights: Thunder vs. Timberwolves - 1/9/19