Historic Start Turns into Late-Game Battle in Thunder’s Win Over Timberwolves
Game Recap: Thunder 120, Timberwolves 118
In the second night of its back-to-back, the Thunder built up as large as a 23-point lead thanks to a historic first-half performance. Even still, Minnesota threw a massive third-quarter punch that led to a tumultuous end to the game.
In the second night of its back-to-back against Minnesota, OKC experienced the other end of the spectrum in terms of player availability. The Thunder fielded a forward-heavy lineup on Friday in the absence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Théo Maledon. Those three returned on Saturday, but Al Horford (rest) and Isaiah Roby (foot soreness) were both out in the rematch leaving the Thunder with a loaded backcourt and a slim front line.
Rather than play through the big man like it did on Friday, the Thunder’s offense relied mainly on its drive and kick opportunities and its ability to penetrate the paint with its athletic guards.
The lineups may have changed, but the quick start remained the same. It was suddenly déjà vu for the Timberwolves as OKC burst out of the gates on an 8-0 run in the first minute and a half of play. Two steals from OKC translated into three points, Gilgeous-Alexander cashed in a corner 3-pointer and Darius Bazley looked to capitalize on the offensive end with the matchup he had against the bigger, less mobile Naz Reid.
The Thunders’ offense didn’t slow down for the remainder of the half. The 8-0 run snowballed to a season-high 43-point first half to build up an early 19-point lead. OKC followed that performance in the following frame with an equally dazzling 40-point second quarter. By halftime, the Thunder posted a historic 83 points – the most points in a half in OKC history.
Mike Muscala played a massive role in the Thunder’s scoring onslaught. The 6-foot-10 center went perfect from both the field (7-7) and the free throw line (6-6) which included several plays where he made the basket while taking on contact leading to three and-one opportunities. By halftime, Muscala led all scorers with 22 points.
“His first half, he obviously had it cooking a little bit,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “But his first half the opportunities he had were a reflection of the way the team was playing, and he happened to be the guy on the receiving end a lot of those plays.”
Minnesota made their adjustments at the half and threw the first punch coming out of the locker room starting with a single-handed 13-3 run by Naz Reid to open the third quarter. That opened the floodgates for Minnesota’s offense who was struggling offensively to start the game. Suddenly, Minnesota only trailed by one bucket as the Thunder went cold offensively going just 1-of-10 from the 3-point line. By the end of the end of the third, the Wolves outscored the Thunder 32 to just 13 points.
“We didn't have the same pop and I give them a lot of credit because we kind of punched him in the first half and they came out of halftime with great resolve and really fired it up,” said Daigneault.
Minnesota took its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter thanks to a 10-2 run to open the frame, completely erasing the Thunder’s once comfortable 23-point lead. Minnesota’s 3-pointers began to fall behind Jake Layman who made a pair of back-to-back triples to boost Minnesota’s lead to its largest of the night at six points.
Coach Daigneault called a timeout to quell the momentum and out of that break, the Thunder began its climb to retake control of the game.
It was hustle plays that shifted the momentum away from Minnesota in the fourth quarter. Kenrich Williams, the man also known as Kenny Hustle came up with three massive offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter alone to help keep possessions alive and give his group a second chance at a bucket.
“That's what he does,” said Diallo. “He comes out there, he lays it on the ground every day. We call that a pitbull mentality and he brings it every night.”
The second efforts opened up the door for the Thunder to chip away and string together multiple possessions of net positive plays.
“I think it was just to realize that the game is not over,” said Maledon. “They made their runs, but we’ve still got time left, and we had to control it and make sure we were making the right plays on offense and defense and taking care of the ball.”
With the door now slightly ajar for the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander kicked it down. The third-year guard shifted into high gear on the offensive end on the way to posting 13 points in the final frame with impressive, highly difficult drives to the rim as Minnesota worked to take away the paint.
“I just tried to be aggressive and make the right basketball play for my team and try to get a win,” said SGA. “Obviously coming out of the second half, we didn’t come out the way we wanted to. We were a little stagnant, a little slow so me being the point guard I wanted to get juices going. Play downhill play aggressive and I think my teammates went off of it.”
“He was outstanding,” said Daigneault. “What great players have is they can do both– they can help the offense function and they can also make plays on their own when necessary and I thought for a guy that's trying to learn how to be a great player consistently, he had a great balance of that tonight.”
The buckets from Gilgeous-Alexander helped OKC tie the game at 118 with just under two minutes to play. OKC then got a stop on the defensive end thanks to double-team pressure on Naz Reid from Gilgeous-Alexander and Théo Maledon which gave the Thunder a chance to take the lead on the other end of the floor.
In that play, Darius Bazley slipped out of a pick and roll with Gilgeous-Alexander after both Minnesota defenders sold out to SGA. Gilgeous-Alexander then whipped the ball inside to the second-year forward who showed tremendous patience and poise to shot fake the shorter Jake Layman and finish with a reverse on the other side of the rim and take the 120-118 lead.
Play of the Game
With the Thunder ahead 120-118, it came down to a defensive possession with just 5.2 seconds remaining for the Thunder to escape with the win.
Minnesota passed the ball inbounds to Naz Reid, who had logged 17 points in the second half. Guarded by Gilgeous-Alexander on the right baseline, Reid began his attack to the middle of the paint looking for a shot at the front of the basket. Upon his jump, he was met at the top with the contesting arms of Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams who applied enough pressure for Reid’s shot to bounce off the back of the cylinder as the clock expired.
“I thought collectively we did a good job defensively,” said Daigneault. “We had basically five guards out there for the majority of the night, and that requires team defense and you’ve got to fly around and you’ve got to do the job on the glass and with your help and I thought we had some critical possessions there obviously down the stretch.”
Stat of the Night83
The Thunder’s first half has a home in the history books as the most points scored in a half in OKC history and tied for the second-most in the league this season. The 43– and 40–point quarters marked the first time in Thunder history with multiple quarters of 40 or more points.
With its backcourt driven lineup, the Thunder shot 60 percent from the field and 52 percent from the arc which also led to 22 team assists.
“We came out with a great intention in terms of how we were going to play stylistically,” said Daigneault. “I thought we really attacked really well, we hit the paint, we sprayed it around. We obviously made shots. The point total is not sustainable obviously, but we really shared it and I thought we played the right way.”
Quotes of the Night
“We went out there and we gave it our all. It wasn't the most beautiful win but we'll take the ugly ones some nights.”
“It's a great example of a 48-minute game. It was a rollercoaster emotionally, but I give our guys credit we kind of gritted our teeth and the fourth and hung in there.” –Coach Daigneault
"Improvement, there's no secret to it. You've got to be humble and you've got to look yourself in the mirror, you've got to figure out how you can get better, and then pour in the preparation and our guys certainly do that."— FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) February 7, 2021
Mark Daigneault on his team's adaptability. pic.twitter.com/SuVW41qL7D
After five games at home, the Thunder will pack its bags to head to the West Coast for its final mini-series against the Lakers. The first game will tip off on Monday at 9 p.m. CT followed by a rematch on Wednesday.