Timberwolves Wrap: Thunder deliver lump of coal in Wolves' first Christmas game
The Timberwolves first Christmas Day game culminated with a loss, highlighted by another masterpiece from Russell Westbrook and another second half collapse from a young Minnesota squad.
1st Quarter: The game started with two empty possessions for Minnesota, while OKC had similar results on their end despite three open looks. Andrew Wiggins finally opened up the scoring with a nice baseline turnaround. With two touchy fouls called early, it was clear that this game wouldn’t be on the physical side.
Similar to their previous match-up in Oklahoma City, the Timberwolves were successful in stopping Russell Westbrook offensively. He was able to make it up in other categories though, assists and a huge block on Karl-Anthony Towns, most notably.
Towns would have his vengeance with a booming dunk of his own with about three minutes to go while the Wolves continued to hold it down defensively, giving them the first quarter lead while holding the Thunder to just 23 points, 3.6 below their season average in the quarter.
2nd Quarter: Zach LaVine opened up the second frame with a fastbreak slam. Enes Kanter then came right back two possessions later, running the floor like a guard and executing a fancy, behind-the-back dribble and finishing with a contested left-handed layup. That began a run of six straight points for Kanter, the last of which was finished around a double-team. Kanter than shared the love on the next possession, assisting on a lead-changing dunk, forcing a Tom Thibodeau timeout.
Gorgui Dieng ended the run out of the timeout with a mid-range jumper on the baseline. Minnesota than came up with a stop on the other end, and beat the Thunder in transition to allow for a Shabazz Muhammad slam to finish a 3-on-2. The pace slowed down with several fouls on both ends, allowing for opportunities for the Timberwolves to run several offensive sets. Ricky Rubio showed signed of his old self, finding several open men and tallying six assists through the first half.
A Russell Westbrook technical foul brought out the boo-birds for the first time in the evening. Westbrook uttered a “my bad” to referee Tony Brothers after seeing what he thought was a foul indeed was not. The ‘T’ did not stop Westbrook from scoring 12 straight Thunder points, while Semaj Christon followed an Andrew Wiggins three-point-play with a buzzer beating three-pointer of his own, giving the Thunder a four-point lead going into the half.
3rd Quarter: Karl-Anthony Towns began where he left off with a dribble drive on the Wolves’ first offensive possession of the second half. Zach LaVine followed suit with a deep three-pointer on a third chance opportunity to close the gap back to four after a pair of Steven Adams free throws and a Westbrook triple.
Coach Thibodeau was forced to call another early quarter timeout after a Steven Adams up-and-under dunk opened the lead back up to eight, hoping to extinguish any offensive run that would continue the Timberwolves’ second half woes.
Andrew Wiggins failed to convert on a pair of free throw attempts out of the timeout, but after a Westbrook alley-oop to Andre Roberson, KAT responded with an 18-footer. The Thunder shortly opened the lead up to double digits before a pair of turnovers helped the Wolves close the lead yet again.
Another dry spell offensively helped the Thunder dance with their lead a bit before Andrew Wiggins picked up some of the slack, scoring seven straight for Minnesota. Without the stout defensive effort for the Timberwolves, Oklahoma City would have taken a lead much larger than 11 into the fpirtj quarter.
4th Quarter: The big men of OKC continued their paint domination with Enes Kanter scoring four straight while matched up on Jordan Hill. Zach LaVine answered with a three to keep the game within reach before Alex Abrines hit a long three to bring the Thunder lead back to 14, and several sloppy possessions by Minnesota allowed Billy Donovan to call a timeout with eight minutes to go, bringing his finisher back into the game to close out the Wolves.
It took a little over a minute for the young Wolves to bring the game back within 10 with the Thunder not able to convert on a pair of possessions. However, Russell Westbrook began to do what he was called upon for, converting a three-point play to bring the crowd back to life, and then assisted on a Jerami Grant three the next time down the floor. The dagger was inserted when Westbrook fed Steven Adams on an alley-oop to bring the lead to a game-high 16 points.
The Thunder twisted the dagger when Westbrook provided three more beautiful assists to bring the lead to 20, and all but put the Timberwolves to bed with three minutes to play. Westbrook finally left the game with two minutes left, coming just three rebounds shy of a triple double, to go along with 31 points and 15 assists.
The Wolves’ reserves came in to close out the remainder of the game, giving an anticlimactic end to what was a competitive game for 36 minutes.
Story of the Night: Minnesota yet again was tough and competitive through three quarters, but lost all composure and hustle in the final 12 minutes.
The OKC bigs were beating the Minnesota bigs back down the floor, and no team can afford that with a guy like Russell Westbrook running the point. Buckets were easy to find and came often for the Thunder, allowing them to yet again stymie any Wolves attack late in the game.
The most disappointing part of this performance was the fact that it was lost in almost the exact same way as the first match-up between these two teams: Steven Adams looked dominant down low, Enes Kanter owned his opponents off the bench, and Westbrook, after yet another slow start, put together a great second half performance. It appeared as though the Timberwolves learned nothing from the previous dual with the Thunder. Let’s hope it’s just a result of age, rather than something festering deeper within the organization.
Star of the Night: I can’t not give this to Russell Westbrook. He responded any time the Timberwolves showed any signs of life, especially late.
He hustled for 33 minutes, which is no surprise for the way he plays. That hustle allowed for easy buckets in transition all throughout the game, never allowing the Wolves to come close after the lead was opened up to six midway through the third quarter. He didn’t hit the triple-double that he’s averaging and many are expecting from him at this point, but his performance was incredible nonetheless.
Stat of the Night: The Thunder bench outscored the Timberwolves bench 50-26, led by Enes Kanter’s 20 points. Shabazz Muhammad did account for 15 of the 26 Timberwolves points, which is a good sign going forward. However, if Minnesota expects to compete throughout games, they need to figure out a way to either score more off the bench, or stop opponents’ benches from scoring 50 points.
Another troubling stat that is worth noting is Andrew Wiggins’ 3-for-8 night from the free throw line. Many of those opportunities came at important times in the game, and converting on some of those attempts could have swung the momentum in the right direction. Key misses allowed the home crowd to stay in it and allow the Thunder to build on leads.
Notable Wolves Lines:
Who’s next? Minnesota returns home for a match-up with the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night at the Target Center. Tip-off is set for 7:00 on FSNorth.
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