Minnesota blew a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter, as Oklahoma City got 33 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to secure a big road win.
Games at this point in the year tend to be a letdown. Fans have gotten used to the pacing of the season and the players are looking forward to the All-Star break. Tonight was an exception. Tonight felt like the playoffs as the tension and excitement before the tip was palpable as the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder prepared to battle.
As the game got going, it was the Wolves who looked nervous and lacking composure. In an attempt to switch things up defensively, Anthony Edwards picked up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander off the tip. Gilgeous-Alexander immediately drew a shooting foul, which was an omen of things to come. The ensuing possessions consisted of a lob to Rudy Gobert getting stolen and resulting in a Gilgeous-Alexander layup, a Gilgeous-Alexander drive and kick to an open three for Chet Holmgren, and another Wolves turnover that led to a Josh Giddey midrange jumper. If you’re sensing a theme, you’d be correct.
As we saw in their previous matchup, turnovers continued to haunt the Timberwolves. Their six first quarter turnovers led to 14 points for the Thunder. It also allowed the Thunder to build up a 15-point lead in what was looking like a game that could get out of hand early. Fortunately, the Wolves cold shooting start started to improve in the final minute. While the Wolves didn’t retake the lead, back-to-back threes from Naz Reid and Kyle Anderson, followed up by an and-1 layup from Edwards, cut the Wolves deficit to just six after the first.
The second quarter rapidly devolved into chaos. The Wolves started imposing themselves on both ends of the floor as their at-rim scoring, steal, and block numbers all rose. Unfortunately, for every turnover they forced, they almost immediately returned the favor. Despite their sloppy play, the Wolves took advantage of Gilgeous-Alexander on the bench by erasing their deficit and retaking a four-point lead.
Once Gilgeous-Alexander returned, though, the Thunder yet again pulled ahead, heading into halftime with a three-point lead. On the surface, not an ideal situation. However, a silver lining was that Mike Conley and Edwards were awful. It was looking like the rare stinker from Conley as he finished the first half 0-6 shooting with 3 turnovers. Edwards also was struggling to rise to the occasion as he recorded just eight points on 2-4 shooting with two assists and two turnovers. With two of their most important players struggling the way they were, being down only three wasn’t a bad alternative.
With the second half underway, the Wolves came out with an entirely different energy. Led by their active and tenacious defense, the Wolves retook the lead. Gobert and Towns were solid protecting the paint, but it was the joint efforts defending Gilgeous-Alexander. After having 18-points in the first half, Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t score until the 4:33 mark of the third quarter.
As the third quarter carried on, the Wolves shot making drove their lead up to 12. Sparked by back-to-back Reid 3s, a Nickeil Alexander-Walker 3, and an acrobatic finish by Edwards, Target Center exploded. The typical third quarter dominance we’ve seen from the Timberwolves this season drove them forward yet again with a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
That same chaotic energy that fueled the middle quarters carried over to the fourth. The Wolves maintained their lead despite poor shooting and sloppy ball security. As they’ve done all season, they continued to play suffocating defense. With six and a half minutes left in the game, the Wolves maintained their nine-point lead and drove the Thunder’s team shooting percentage below 40%.
As the game wound into its final minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander regained his form. He continued to get to his spots consistently and make tough pull-up after tough pull-up. Conversely, Edwards continued to overcomplicate matters as his turnovers grew to five and shot attempts remained in single digits at the three-minute mark.
With the teams trading free-throws and tough buckets, Gobert headed to the line with a minute left to tie the game. He missed the front end but made the second to bring it within one. The Thunder brought up the ball and initiated their offense. In typical fashion, they collapsed the defense with another strong drive before kicking out to the hometown kid, Chet Holmgren in the corner. Gobert scrambled to closeout, and Holmgren drove. Gobert moved his fetter tremendously, contained the drive, and forced a painfully tough midrange turnaround that rimmed out. Wolves rebound. One-point game. 30 seconds left.
Out of the timeout, the Wolves put the ball in Edwards’ hands, and he effortlessly collapses the defense. With all eyes on Edwards, Conley finds open space at the top of the arc, and Edwards finds Conley. Unfortunately, it was just one of those nights for Conley as the wide-open 3 comes up short.
The Thunder made their free throws to push the lead to three and shockingly decided not to foul. After running a bit of motion, Reid finally attacked and drew a goaltending call. One point game, eight seconds left.
Isaiah Joe hits his free throws to push the lead to three. Desperation is in the air having to go full court in six seconds to get three points. Edwards pulls up from 3 and gets fouled. He misses all three. Ball game. On a night where the Timberwolves shot 41.3% as a team, committed 21 turnovers, missed eight free throws, and had uncharacteristic offensive outings from both Edwards and Conley, a win just wasn’t in the cards tonight, as OKC got it to the finish line with a score of 102-97.
Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 33 points, six assists and a pair of steals, while he received good enough supplementary play from Jalen Williams — who delivered 20 points on 6/18 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and three steals — and Holmgren, who added 15 points, five rebounds and three stocks.
Edwards and Towns co-led Minnesota with 19 points apiece, as Ant added five boards and five assists, while Towns grabbed 11 rebounds. Naz Reid scored 18 off the bench to go along with four blocks, while Jaden McDaniels scored an efficient 15 points on 11 shots — his fourth consecutive game in double figures.
After the game, turnovers were the main focus for the team, and understandably so considering the Wolves turned it over 21 times, which the Thunder turned into 28 points on the other end. Seven of those turnovers came in the fourth quarter, during which OKC scored eight points off of them.
Head Coach Chris Finch emphasized that the game really came down to those turnovers. Finch elaborated that the turnovers were largely a product of “one dribble too many” and “getting into the offense too slowly.”
The players shared a similar sentiment. Gobert brought up how they failed to capitalize on a bunch of transition opportunities. That chaotic energy that was evident throughout the second half helped the Timberwolves force turnovers and get defensive stops. Unfortunately, they also fed into that chaos with plenty of missed opportunities in transition.
Edwards also touched on the turnovers. He agreed they were a major problem tonight, but he wasn’t concerned about it in the long run. He continued to emphasize that they, and more specifically he, will continue to figure it out and learn from it. Ant maintained that he felt good about most of his reads, but he was disappointed in his execution.
The Wolves will host the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night before kicking off a four-game road stand, with three games coming against non-playoff teams. Fans can watch the 7 PM CT tip on Bally Sports North.
Minnesota will meet Oklahoma City in OKC next Monday, January 29, to cap off that four-game trip, just like the Thunder did in Minneapolis tonight.