After a heartbreaker of a loss on Sunday, the Thunder came into tonight’s matchup with the Timberwolves in Minnesota with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Oklahoma City handled the Pacers just fine on Wednesday, but there’s no doubt they have been looking forward to the opportunity to play the Timberwolves again and pay them back on their own home court.
The Thunder started off strong, and for the first time this season, Paul George looked legitimately comfortable playing with this team. He helped fuel Oklahoma City early as he scored 12 points on 5/6 shooting from the field, including 3/3 from deep.
George played the entire first quarter, and the second unit looked good to finish the period. Jerami Grant had an electrifying dunk, and after 12 minutes of play, the Thunder led 33-26.
Oklahoma City continued their impressive play to start the second quarter, but this time it was Carmelo Anthony who led the way. Despite only having two points in the first quarter, he finished the first half with 13 points. Despite the Thunder’s success offensively, the defense struggled primarily due to fouls and free throws. Minnesota shot 16/20 from the free throw line compared to the Thunder’s 8/8, and at the half, the game was all tied up at 59 apiece.
The Thunder struggled to keep the Timberwolves from scoring to start the third quarter, but offensively, it was a different story. Steven Adams went to work as he scored eight straight points to begin the half, and he finished the quarter with 20 points in the game shooting 8/8 from the field and 4/4 from the free throw line.
Oklahoma City continued to struggle with the free throw disadvantage, but thanks to some hard-nosed defense which fueled the fast break offense, the Thunder went ahead by one with just 17 seconds left in the quarter, but Gorgui Deng hit a shot at the buzzer for the Timberwolves as Oklahoma City trailed 89-90.
The bench came out strong for the Thunder to start the fourth quarter, scoring on the first four possessions of the period, but it was Russell Westbrook who would put Oklahoma City in the position to win. Westbrook shot 4/7 from the field and 3/3 from the free throw line for 12 points in the final 8:43 of the game, but his efforts were not enough. The defense could not stop the Timberwolves from getting offensive rebounds and second chance points. With 8.1 seconds left on the clock and trailing by three, Oklahoma City could not get a good shot, so Carmelo Anthony put up a three at the buzzer, and it was no good, as the Thunder fell 116-119.
3 Quick Thoughts:
- Rebounding is an Issue: For the last three seasons, the Thunder has led the league in rebounding with at least 46.6 rebounds per game, but that has not been the case through five games this season. After tonight, Oklahoma City ranks near the bottom of the NBA with only 39.8 rebounds, and it cost them heavily tonight. The Thunder were outrebounded 35-44 tonight, which doesn’t seem like much, but the fact that the Timberwolves had 17 offensive rebounds is what really hurt. Those 17 offensive rebounds for Minnesota led to 24 second-chance points. The Thunder desperately needs to get back to dominating the boards and owning the inside, or else this could be an ongoing problem in close games.
- Rotations Need Work: This early in the season and with so many new faces on the team, it makes sense that Billy Donovan hasn’t quite figured out what rotations work. Donovan is known for tinkering with different lineups, and that has definitely been the trend so far this season. Tonight, Jerami Grant saw almost 28 minutes of play time, the most he’s had all season, while Andre Roberson played only 10 minutes, the fewest he’s played since March 6, 2016 agains the Milwaukee Bucks. Patrick Patterson also saw his season-high in minutes with 19, and Josh Huestis continues to see a decent amount of playing time after barely playing in his first couple of season with the Thunder. Regardless of who plays, the most important aspect of who is on the court with whom is chemistry and rhythm on both sides of the floor. The sooner this team gets these issues work out, the better.
- Ball Movement Was Lacking: In three of Oklahoma City’s games so far, the Thunder recorded 26 assists each time, but the Thunder failed to spread the floor for much of the night as they recorded only 19 assists. For a team that should be much improved from a season ago when it comes to moving the ball, 19 assists isn’t going to cut it. Early in the game, Oklahoma City shared the ball as they racked up 11 assists in the first half, but in the second half, there were too many isolation possessions, and in the end, it cost them the game as Carmelo Anthony tried to make something out of nothing and missed a shot at the buzzer. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get comfortable playing together, but the Thunder cannot afford to continue to let games like this slip away.
On to Chicago
Oklahoma City will play the second game of a back-to-back tomorrow night in Chicago as the Thunder take on the Bulls. Tip-off is at 7 PM CT, and the game will be televised on FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM the Sports Animal.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.