In a game that essentially meant nothing as far as postseason placement goes, the Oklahoma City Thunder came out undermanned, but ready to play. Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, and Taj Gibson all sat out with rest, but that did not stop the Thunder from playing some excellent basketball. After a few lead changes to start the game, Oklahoma City trailed 9-10 before they went on a 24-6 run to end the first quarter with a 33-16 lead. The Thunder reserves kept up the intensity in the second period as they extended the lead to 22 at one point, but the Timberwolves kept things interesting as they managed to cut the deficit to 13 as Oklahoma City led 56-43 at the half.
Minnesota continued their push to close in on Oklahoma City as they ran off 8 straight points before the Thunder could score to stop the bleeding. The Timberwolves would outscore the Thunder 29-15 for the period to finish the quarter leading Oklahoma City 72-71. The fourth quarter would prove to be the most evenly balanced period of the night as there were 13 lead changes, but the Thunder came out on top 100-98 to move to 47-34 on the season with the finale coming up tomorrow.
Oladipo Ices the Game
With Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s leading scorer by a lot, resting for the night, Victor Oladipo had to come into the game with the mindset that he was going to have to score if the Thunder were going to come away with a win. Oladipo did not shoot a lot, taking only 16 shots, but he made 8 of them to go along with 3 free throws to tally 20 points as he led Oklahoma City in scoring.
Oladipo was able to contribute in other ways besides scoring as well as he grabbed a team-tying high 9 rebounds and team-tying high 6 assists. He struggled at times to take care of the ball as he turned it over 8 times, but he was in charge of running the offense pretty much the entire time he was on the floor.
The best part of Oladipo’s performance was his play during the fourth quarter. When the Thunder are in a close game and time is winding down, the ball is undoubtedly always in Russell Westbrook’s hands, but that was not possible tonight, so the responsibility fell to Oladipo. Victor scored 9 points in the final period, including the eventual game-winner with only 6.3 seconds left.
Seeing Oladipo show up and have a solid game, especially hitting a clutch shot at the end to win it, is exactly what the Thunder needs headed into the playoffs. Russell Westbrook has played well all season, and he has been a monster lately, but he has to have help against a talented Houston squad, which means Oladipo is going to have to step up and be that right-hand man to Russ that Thunder fans know he is capable of being.
Team Effort Fuels Thunder Win
Despite three starters out for rest, the Thunder had very little issue taking care of business tonight. As a team, Oklahoma City had six guys score in double digits as the team shot a decent 43% from the field, 32% from three, and 76% from the free throw line, and the Thunder assisted on 22 of 37 made field goals.
After Victor Oladipo’s team-high 20 points, Domantas Sabonis showed up with an impressive stat line as he filled in at starting power forward. He scored 19 points while shooting 6/16 (37.5%) from the field and 6/6 (100%) from the free throw line to go along with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Sabonis has really struggled in the second half of the season, but tonight’s performance showed that he has a lot of potential and room to grow.
Norris Cole came off the bench to play a solid 23 minutes as he scored points on 4/11 (36.4%) shooting from the floor, including a clutch three late in the 4th quarter, as well as 3/4 (75%) from the free throw line. He also had 3 assists and 2 rebounds.
Kyle Singler played 28 minutes, his third-most of the season, as he filled in for Andre Roberson in the starting lineup. He tallied 11 points and 4 rebounds. Thunder big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter added 10 points apiece to finish out the double-digit scoring Oklahoma City, and they also grabbed 8 rebounds each.
Fan-favorite Jerami Grant came off the bench to play 22 minutes, and while he scored only 6 points, which included an incredible dunk, he also had 8 rebounds and a monster block near the end of the game.
Nick Collison played a brief 8 minutes, but he went 2/2 from the floor for 4 points to go along with 3 rebounds and an assist. He had a dunk at a key point in the third quarter when Oklahoma City desperately needed a bucket.
Tonight’s game was a lot of fun, and though it changes nothing in playoff standings, it was a good look at what the Thunder are capable of doing without Russell Westbrook on the floor. As a team, Oklahoma City has not played particularly well the last few weeks, but tonight was a good start. Hopefully they are able to carry some of that success into the first round of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets.
Season Finale At Home
The Thunder will host the Denver Nuggets at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday in the final game of the season. Oklahoma City effectively eliminated the Nuggets from the playoffs on Sunday when Russell Westbrook not only set the single-season triple-double record with 42 total, but he also hit a ridiculous buzzer beater to help the Thunder to a 106-105 win. Neither team has anything special to play for as Oklahoma City is locked in at the 6-seed in the Western Conference, and the Nuggets will be headed to the offseason when the game is over, but it should still offer some entertainment. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and former single-season triple-double record holder Oscar Robertson will both be in attendance to honor Westbrook for his incredible season. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM CDT and will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.