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Wolves 96, Thunder 86: From Rush with Love

Corners Are Meant To Be Turned.

MINNEAPOLIS — Corner, turned. Maybe. It’s possible. Seriously.

After the Wolves finished off the Thunder on Friday night to earn their third straight win, sideline reporter Marney Gellner interviewed Karl-Anthony Towns as the final act of a tremendous performance.

Towns—who finished with 29 points, 17 rebounds, and three blocks in an outstanding game that his coach praised afterwards—was drowned out by thunderous cheers (no pun).

KAT laughed, almost taken by surprise. After pausing for a second with a smile that oozed as much relief as happiness, he simply said, "This is how it's supposed to be."

The Timberwolves had one of their most convincing wins of the season tonight against an excellent Oklahoma City Thunder team and a superhuman that was built by science to play basketball in Russell Westbrook.

Yes, the Wolves have had some good wins this season, but not against this level of competition and with this level of steadiness. OKC is a good team. Westbrook is an angry, athletic, triple-double machine. I will not be convinced that he is not a robot until the NBA starts testing for motor oil and titanium.

But the Wolves took every punch and every assist that Westbrook delivered throughout the game. Thankfully, his shooting from outside the arc, and in general, was abysmal. I’ll have to double check this figure, but I think 1-10 from three is not a great percentage. Russ logged his 19th triple-double of the season, which is good, and his second quadruple-double of the season, which is bad if the fourth metric is measured in turnovers. He looked unstoppable at times and at other times he threw the ball straight to Ricky.

There were other players on the court for OKC as well. The Enes Kanter and Steven Adams front court did scare me at times. More so the Enes part of that equation, but more on that later. Kanter finished the game with 21 points on eight for ten shooting, grabbed eight boards, and provided a genuine sixth-man spark for OKC’s second unit. He became the focal point of their offense in the second quarter and for that short period of time, it made me curse Belly and Bazz for not providing a similar contribution for the Wolves. One last thought on Kanter, how is he 24 years old? It feels like he’s been in the league for ten years. Does being in Utah automatically age a player? I’m convinced that he’s approaching 30.

In the end, this game wasn’t about Kanter or Westbrook. This game was about the Wolves. I was waiting for a collapse, or a lapse in defense, or a stagnant offense that made me want to throw things at my television, but other than a moment of scares to end the second, this game was as consistent of a performance from start to finish that we’ve seen from the Wolves all season.

There were three main contributors to the success of the evening: a large KAT, a Spanish Unicorn, and a Rush of blood to the head.

Karl-Anthony Towns

29 points, 11-17 shooting, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals

KAT was a man possessed. He saw Steven Adams, talked shit about Aquaman, and drove straight into his face all night.

From the first quarter, he wasn’t settling for mid-range jumpers or multiple pump-faked threes. He was going at Steven Adams large body and aggressively driving towards the basket. I like aggressive KAT’s. They do things like this:

Karl-Anthony logged his 30th double/double of the season, his 10th straight. His defense was excellent and looked dominant for stretches throughout.

Ricky Rubio

14 points, 6-12 shooting, 14 assists, 4 steals

Ricky Rubio handed out 14 assists tonight, increasing his three-game total to 46 assists, setting a new franchise record and matching the most in a three-game span in the NBA this season (Westbrook, Nov. 25-28). Rubio is the second player in franchise history (Pooh Richardson) to dish out 14+ assists in three consecutive games. Tonight was Rubio’s third consecutive double-double, his longest double-double streak since Mar. 11-16, 2016.

El Unicorn was full maestro, as he has been for several games now. It seems that the coaching staff is finally allowing Ricky to be Ricky. The pick-and-roll offense with him at the conductor stand led to multiple easy and open shots throughout the evening, whether it was at the rim, at the three-point line, or him calling his own mid-range number. Yes, he did have some really bad turnovers that led to easy OKC buckets, but in general, the starting unit looked fluid with him at the helm.

In Minnesota’s three games so far this week (all wins), Rubio has averaged 12.3 points, 15.3 assists, 3.3 steals and just 3.0 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Towns has averaged 28.7 points, on 67.9% shooting (36-of- 53), 15.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game.

Brandon Rush

11 points, 4-9 shooting, 3-6 from three, hustle plays +1,000

We’re quickly developing an intense love for Brandon Rush. This was the player we hoped for when he signed in the off-season. Threes and D. He’s been playing that role to perfection since the sidelining of Zach and it seems to be working for the team. He’s not filling up the stat line, but he’s certainly passing the eye test. Whether it’s a three-pointer, a contested rebound, or an out of nowhere block, B Rush is quickly making a case for a prominent spot in the rotation.

Minnesota’s defense held Oklahoma City to 32.4% shooting (12-of- 37) in the second half, including forcing 11 Thunder turnovers for 25 points. Tonight is the fifth time this season the Wolves have held its opponent to under 90 points (5-0,) as well as the fifth time holding an opponent under 40% shooting (3-2.)

Two games, two triple-double machines in Westbrook and Harden, two victories. Have the Wolves finally breathed in the Thibs dust? Have our young Wolves figured something out? Is that a corner that we see? I’m going to actively ignore the dismal start to the year and focus far more on the last three games when we say yes, that was a corner, and the Wolves are turning it.

Now, if we can only figure out a way to fit Zach back into the lineup, we’ll be good to go.