Basketball is a funny sport. For the most part, the game typically goes the way it "should"; the better team nearly always prevails. However, sometimes things don't go as they are supposed to, sometimes David slays Goliath.
The Minnesota Timberwolves started out the game strong against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team featured Andrew Wiggins early and often, moving the ball eagerly and playing stout defense. These factors contributed the team building up as much as a 13 point lead in the first quarter. However, the Thunder â lead by centers Steven Adams and Enes Kanter â were an absolute force on the offensive glass all night, which helped them slowly chip away at the Wolves large lead. Oklahoma City eventually regained the lead, and at halftime the score was 53-50 in favor of the Thunder.
At this point, the game felt as if it was headed down an all too familiar path: the Wolves build a double-digit lead in the first half only to allow the opposing team to whittle away and stay in it and eventually succumb to the jaws of defeat. For all intents and purposes, coming out of the second half if felt as if the Thunder had taken the lead for good. They were the superior team, playing at home, and the referees, at times, seemed to swallow their whistles when the Wolves had the ball. Yet, the young Wolves simply wouldn't go away. Wiggins continued to be aggressive, Ricky Rubio directed the offense and defense as the maestro he is, Gorgui Dieng continued his steady play from the first half, and Towns came alive, especially in the fourth quarter.
Towns, who has been otherworldly all season, struggled mightily in the first half; the rookie big man was 1/4 from the field and tallied a minuscule 3 points. Adams was a thorn in Towns' side for the entire half, but, despite his struggles, the Wolves' prodigy never backed down, at one point getting into a shoving match with Adams. However, Towns was resurgent in the second half and overcame his early struggles to finish with 17 points and 12 boards. Towns nailed two shots near the end of the fourth quarter to tie the game and take the lead by two.
However, trailing by two and with only 10 seconds left, the Thunder turned to Kevin Durant to make a play. After receiving the inbound pass, Durant drove baseline and hoisted up a shot over Wiggins. Towns swooped in out of now where and tipped Durant's shot, which was then rebounded by Steven Adams who put the ball through the hoop seemingly simultaneously to when a referee blew his whistle to call goaltending and the shot clock rang out. After a review, it was determined that Adams made the shot before the whistle and horn, so the Thunder were awarded two points and the game was tied at 96.
After a time out, the Wolves made the decision to turn to Andrew Wiggins to make a play. Wiggins, who was being blanketed by Kevin Durant, drove to the hoop after a screen by Towns and was met in the lane by all five Thunder players. Rather than forcing up a shot or trying to draw the foul, Wiggins found a wide open Ricky Rubio who nailed the game winning three-pointer.
When asked after the game by FSN's Marney Gellner if he knew he made the bucket, Rubio deadpanned, "Yeah, it felt pretty good." The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night by a score of 99-96, marking the first time the Wolves have beaten the Thunder on the road since 2008.
It was an all-around fantastic effort by everyone involved in this game, but especially the starters. Gourgi Dieng was sublime, boasting a line of 25 points, nine rebounds, and a team high +19. Dieng played through foul trouble (he picked up his fifth with seven minutes left in the game) and, while he didn't do anything flashy or spectacular, was a steadying presence for the Wolves all night. Dieng's improvement this season has been a major boon for the Wolves. It can be debated whether or not playing Dieng and Towns side by side is redundant, but Dieng's emergence as a viable four only boosts his value, especially on this team. His long-term future is probably as Towns' backup, but, for the moment, he and KAT are a formidable duo.
Andrew Wiggins was aggressive early on and stayed that way throughout the entire game, despite not getting to the free throw line until midway through the fourth. He converted two of five shots from behind the arc on his way to posting a line of 20 points, 4 assists, and 5 steals. One of the biggest criticisms of Wiggins' repertoire is that he lacks a consistent three-point shot. In today's NBA, it is important for players (especially those considered franchise cornerstones, save for a few exceptions) to have a relatively consistent outside shot. Wiggins has been shooting much better from three as of late (44.1% since the beginning of February), and continuing to develop that shot will be imperative in order for him to reach his "peak", whatever that may be.
It also can't be understated how impressive his pass to Rubio for the game winning shot was. Wiggins has oft been criticized this season for his lack of box score stats (i.e. rebounds and assists); however, tonight (and really, as of late) he has shown just how capable of a passer he can be. Sure, the numbers aren't always there, but Wiggins has been doing a better job at driving and kicking to find open teammates and, without a doubt, the numbers will surely come, especially if/when the team adds more threats from outside. Wiggins has grown this season, though it hasn't always been linear, measurable growth. What Wiggins needs most right now is just a little more time to marinate.
Undoubtedly, the hero of the game was Ricky Rubio; Rubio was simply phenomenal. Rubio finished with 13 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds, three steals, and zero turnovers and provided wonderful defense on Russell Westbrook, constraining him to 8/19 from the field and a -10 plus/minus. This game â not just the game winning three â proved just how valuable Rubio is, not only to this franchise, but in general. Rubio provides so much value when he is on the court and not always in ways that can be measured. Tonight was just one more shred of evidence that suggests that a team can win tough games with Rubio as the point guard.
One final note must mention that this was the best defense the Wolves have displayed in a long time. The Wolves finally did a good job at defending the three-point line, holding the Thunder to 6/27 from behind the arc. Excluding Kevin Durant (11/20) and Enes Kanter (7/9), the Oklahoma City Thunder were held to only 18/55 (32.75) shooting from the field, and it was the first time the Wolves have held an opponent to fewer than 100 points since January 31 in a loss to the Portland Trailblazers.