Oklahoma City Thunder

Clutch Free Throws Seal Thunder Victory in Minnesota

Zachary Low

zacharylow88

The Rundown

The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a third consecutive win—the first time in doing so since before the All-Star Break—as Russell Westbrook and Paul George scored 27 points each to get a 132-126 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

A Strong Start Goes A Long Way

Since the All-Star Break, the Thunder has struggled to start off games on the right side of the scoreboard, but that was not the case today. Midway through the first quarter, OKC had a 22-8 lead thanks to shooting 9-11 (81.8%) from the floor—including 4-5 (80.0%) from 3.

While there’s really not a way to sustain that type of shooting, the way the Thunder got there in the first place—defensive effort—is a non-negotiable and absolutely must be sustained from start to finish.

From that point into halftime, Minnesota started hitting shots at a much higher rate than the Thunder, which allowed the Wolves to close the gap. Thankfully, OKC had done enough early on to maintain a 2-point lead at the half. That just goes to show that a strong start for this team really is vital to being successful.

Perimeter Dependency is Dangerous

After knocking down 4 of 5 three-point attempts to start the game, the Thunder looked like they could not miss. Despite a solid month or so shooting from beyond the perimeter, Oklahoma City has been one of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams all season long, so when they start falling, it’s hard to stop shooting them.

Unfortunately, shots stop falling at some point, and despite finishing 14-34 (41.2%), the Thunder nearly cost themselves the game because they fell in love with the three. After the 4-5 start, the Thunder finished 7-13 (53.8%) in the opening quarter. The rest of the game, however, OKC managed to make just 7-23 (30.4%) from deep.

The Thunder’s saving grace came in the fourth quarter where they limited their three-point attempts to just 2—both were misses—and instead opted to attack the basket and finish the game at the free throw line.

While three-point shots are exciting—and what a lot of teams do to get wins—that simply is not the Thunder’s M-O. Attacking the paint and getting to the charity stripe is what OKC needs to do in order to get wins in the playoffs.

Thunder Player of the Game

Russell Westbrook was the man with the plan in today’s win for the Thunder. After playing a nearly flawless first quarter where he tallied 9 points, 5 assists, and 2 rebounds, he struggled a bit to find his shot. In the fourth quarter, however, Westbrook came alive as he scored 11 points—including 5 made free throws, 3 of which came in the final 45 seconds of the game.

Russ finished with 27 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds for his 32nd triple-double of the season, and his ability to come up big at the end of the game is what should give Thunder fans hope that this team might be able to make some noise in the playoffs.

Home Finale

It’s been a long season, but the Thunder is headed back to OKC to play their home finale against the Houston Rockets. The Thunder is 2-1 against the Rockets so far this season—1-0 at home, 1-1 on the road—and this game is important for both teams due to the playoff seeding implications.

Tip-off is set for 8:30 PM, and it will be broadcast TNT and Fox Sports Oklahoma. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.

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