In a bounce-back game on the road, the Thunder rode a dominant third quarter and a pair of electric performances by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to overwhelm the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With three brutally difficult games back at Chesapeake Energy Arena awaiting the Thunder later this week, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club walked into the Target Center with its tail between its legs, pride wounded after a poor showing at home against the Los Angeles Lakers. In Minnesota, in January, the Thunder was determined to have a strong bounce-back performance to show that it could follow up its blistering last six weeks with another strong road performance.
Still, the Thunder’s first half wasn’t much to write home about. The Timberwolves racked up extra shot attempts due to Thunder turnovers and a handful of second chances and despite a string of makes on 8 straight shots by OKC and an 8-1 run, the Thunder couldn’t maintain any sort of lead until late in the second quarter. Four free throws by Danilo Gallinari, who lived at the line on Monday night by abusing mismatches, were punctuated by a step-back three-pointer by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, helping the Thunder rush into halftime on the heels of a 7-0 run to provide a bit of breathing room.
Coming out of halftime, the Thunder was a team possessed. Ripping down rebounds, led by Gilgeous-Alexander who crashed down to assist on the defensive glass, the Thunder got out into the open floor to set up teammates for catch and shoot looks.
“You have to give Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] a lot of credit, I thought he got himself back in there and defensive rebounded really well. When he does that, it helps us start the break, but it was a group effort with guys getting to the backboard tonight,” said Donovan.
Terrance Ferguson was a primary recipient, adding 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting while still managing to hold Andrew Wiggins to just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting in the game.
“He does so much for us,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of Ferguson. “He gets unnoticed a lot because he doesn’t have 25 a night but he does so much for us and we feel like he deserves a little bit more offensively. We encourage him to go get some.”
Hometown kid Mike Muscala, who grew up not far from Minneapolis, also got in on the action, burying three three-pointers in pick-and-pop situations for a producing 11-point, 3-rebound and 3-assist performance in 19 minutes off the bench.
After a crushing Thunder run to open up the fourth quarter, the Thunder put an exclamation mark on the period with some sensational ball movement. Ferguson received a pass in the corner, drawing a help defender. Dishing to Steven Adams at the elbow, Ferguson immediately recognized the advantage situation and darted backdoor down the baseline. As soon as the ball touched Adams’ hands it was back out, bouncing to Ferguson who reared back for a ferocious one-handed dunk, delivering on one of Adams’ five assists in the game.
On a sideline out of bounds play with just a few seconds left on the shot clock, Chris Paul inbounded the ball to Adams at the elbow then sprinted right towards his big man. Like he did with Ferguson, Adams touch-passed the ball right back to Paul who took two long strides, squared his hips to the rim and raised up for a mid-range jumper. It was his second bucket of the game, and the second in a row, helping to set the tone for the Thunder’s game-changing third quarter run.
Before Paul hit that bucket the Thunder led by only two, but shortly thereafter the Thunder’s lead rocketed up to 18 thanks to a 21-5 spurt that broke the game open for good. Gallinari made a steal on the wing and got fouled in transition, then Gilgeous-Alexander found Ferguson for a three on the wing as the shot clock wound down to nothing. Gallinari then worked a switch to get a post up over Andrew Wiggins and buried a non-chalant fallaway jumper with ease.
“The third quarter for us was important. We had some action, some really good ball movement, some great clips offensively. I thought that was critical. The other thing too with their team, because of the way they rebound and attack with their guards, I thought the free throw line would be important, and we got to the line,” said Donovan, referencing the Thunder’s 23-of-26 shooting at the free throw line in the game.
To cap the surge, Gilgeous-Alexander again found Ferguson on the right side for a three, then on a second chance on the ensuing possession, Gallinari buried an open wing three, forcing a Minnesota timeout. The run demoralized the Thunder’s division rival, and the Timberwolves never drew closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Play of the Game
The Thunder’s lead was 10 in the fourth with just over three minutes to play. Danger time for Minnesota, but enough clock for a potential comeback. An offensive possession for OKC stalled out after a deflection, leaving Dennis Schröder just one option up against the shot clock – a heave from the left wing that glanced off the rim. Adams soared up and got a full palm on the carom, slapping it out to the perimeter.
All the way from the baseline Adams rushed up to the elbow, setting a screen that Paul then drove around. The veteran point guard used a Shamgod dribble to create separation, then kicked back to the top of the key to a curling Gallinari, who nailed his third three of the game to cap a season-high 30-point game on a ridiculously efficient 7-of-12 shooting, including an 11-for-12 mark at the free throw line.
“A guy like Gallo [Danilo Gallinari] is always a mismatch,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We just try to find him more--it makes it easier on the rest of us because once he exploits the mismatch, they have to double team which puts them in rotations and soforth. Gallo did a great job exploiting mismatches tonight."
“He's the type of guy who, I don’t care who you are or what you do, there’s nothing you can do with him,” Gilgeous-Alexander continued. “He displayed that tonight.”
Stat of the Night20-20-10
Gilgeous-Alexander became the fifth Thunder player in OKC history to notch a triple-double, the first of the young guard’s career. The Canadian guard notched 20 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 10 assists and was the youngest player to ever compile that stat-line. He came into the game with a clear mindset to make an impact on the glass after the Thunder were beat up down low by the Lakers on Saturday.
“Coach challenged me before the game to fill the stat sheet and do more things because he thought, and I thought, I was more capable of what I was doing, I just tried to give my full effort out there,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
The Thunder’s do-it-all guard became just the fourth second-year player in NBA history to register a 20-20 triple-double (Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley and Oscar Robertson) and he’s only the third guard in the last 25 years (Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons) to have a 20-point, 20-rebound game.
Quotes of the Night
The Thunder took care of business on the road and now gets back to Chesapeake Energy Arena for three straight home games to finish out this stretch of five-of-six in Oklahoma City. First up is the Toronto Raptors, whom the Thunder will host on Wednesday before taking on the Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers on Friday and Saturday.