In the opening quarter, the Thunder blitzed the Wolves to the tune of 42 points. It was the most the Thunder had ever scored in a quarter this season and it looked like the Wolves were in for a long night.
Although the Thunder were 8-12 coming into this game, that record does not indicate the actual skill level and ability of this team. The Thunder had one of the best defensive ratings in the NBA and, simply due to poor second-half performances, have lost numerous close games, two of which were against the Wolves.
However, when the Thunder get rolling, they look as unstoppable as the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets when their shots are falling. Russell Westbrook is a one-man wrecking crew, Paul George is the do-everything wing, Carmelo Anthony helps space the floor and put more pressure on the defense with his playmaking, and Steven Adams runs to the rim and cleans up on the offensive glass.
Tonight, many of those pieces looked to be fitting together. Westbrook almost got his patented triple-double with 15 points, 14 assists, and 9 rebounds. Paul George was lights out from the field with 36 points and 9 assists, making five of nine threes and a perfect 11-11 from the line.
Steven Adams had his highest scoring game of his career and did not miss a single shot. The burly New Zealander was only stopped by periods of foul trouble, but in 32 minutes had 27 points, making all 11 of his shot attempts. Of Adams’ six rebounds, four came on the offensive boards. Perhaps fittingly, the game was mostly sealed when Adams was able to grab an offensive rebound and bring the Thunder lead back up to five.
Truth be told, this did not seem like a game where the Wolves were going to be able to keep up. The Thunder were sharing the ball well for one of the first times and set a season high for assists in a game with 28 assists. The Wolves were out-rebounded 42-26, with the Thunder holding a 7-rebound advantage on the offensive glass. The Thunder also won the fast break battle, points in the paint, and points off turnovers.
How the Wolves stuck around was actually partly due to the three-point battle, which is not one the Wolves often win. The Wolves shot very well from deep tonight, making 12-14, while the Thunder only made 8-26, with I believe five of those coming in the first quarter.
To the Wolves credit, they were able to simply stick around and cause the Thunder to sweat at the end the game. For most of the game, the Wolves were able to keep the Thunder’s lead around ten points, as they played the 2nd and 3rd quarter pretty much even.
As the game drew to the close, the Wolves starting unit was able to push the game to within a single possession at a couple points, but while the Thunder were suffering through their usual late-game offensive stagnation, the Wolves own issues cropped up yet again. At 4:17 left in the game, the Wolves had brought the game to three points, down 98-101. The team did not score again until 1:15, with a couple Andrew Wiggins free throws.
The team seemed unable to figure out what was going on in crunch time, with one particularly egregious possession where Jeff Teague spent about 20 seconds unsuccessfully trying to take Steven Adams off the dribble in isolation. While this game does not further hurt the Wolves’ fourth-quarter ratings, as the Wolves did win the 4th quarter by two points, the team did nothing to belie the concerns about their late-game offensive execution.
It is hard to say this felt like a game the Wolves should have, or even could have, won. The Thunder played extremely well, perhaps with one of their best performances of the season, in the first quarter. However, this is one that the Wolves could have stolen on the road if they had been able to better execute down the stretch.
- The Wolves starters played heavy minutes yet again, with Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler playing over 40 minutes each. After playing over 40 minutes the night before, Tyus Jones was relegated back to the bench with the return of Jeff Teague. With that moves to the bench, Jones was back down to 11 minutes.
- Wiggins has kept on shooting great from behind the arc, making 4-8 tonight, while shooting 8-14 from the floor. While he was the only starter that had a negative plus-minus, his three-point shooting was sorely needed.
- Butler played some great defense on Westbrook, who had a relatively quiet game. Butler had a great all-around game with 21 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.
- Karl-Anthony Towns had a hard time keeping Steven Adams off the board and had the unenviable task of guarding the pick-and-roll with Westbrook barreling in. Towards the end of the game, there was one possession where the Thunder put Towns through a pick-and-roll three times consecutively. Teams may be purposefully attacking Towns and he is going to have to respond accordingly.
- Jeff Teague, in his first game back, scored 11 points on 4-5 shooting and dished out 10 assists. He may still have his frustrating moments where he dribbles the air out of the ball or passes up open threes, but it was a relatively good first game back.
The Wolves are now 2-1 against the Thunder this year. That is about as good as we could hope for this season. On to the next one.