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Wolves 104, Thunder 88: Second Half Heroes

Paced by Jimmy Butler, the Wolves knocked off the visiting Thunder for the second time this season.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The first time the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder squared off, fireworks ensued:

Tonight’s contest between the two teams was far more anticlimactic, but still produced an enjoyable result.

Led by Jimmy Buckets, the Wolves notched their sixth straight win at home by holding the Thunder to 88 points on 40.5% shooting. The 88 points marked the seventh straight opponent that the Wolves have held under 100 points, their longest streak since February 8, 2008.

The kid from Tomball, Texas once again stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. According to our friends at Timberwolves PR, a statistical feat like this for a Wolves player is pretty rare:

The first half of the Wolves fourth and final regular season matchup against the Thunder was pretty much a 24-minute defensive slugfest. The Wolves opened the game on a 12-2 run, only to see it matched by an Oklahoma City 9-0 rebuttal. Twenty-one combined fouls dominated the first half, resulting in a stagnant pace that saw the two teams combine for only 47 points a piece and five combined three-pointers.

All that changed early in the second half, as the Wolves stormed out of the locker room with another big run (14-4), but this time they turned up the defensive intensity as they held the Thunder to only 18 points on 6/21 shooting (26.8%). Carrying an 11-point lead into the final frame, the Wolves fed off the energy of the crowd (a fifth-straight sell out) and their bench (primarily Jamal Crawford and Tyus Jones) as they cruised to their 27th win of the season.

After the game, Thibs discussed the second half surge, telling reporters “I didn’t like the first half, but I loved the way we competed in the second half. They’re such a tough team. They keep constant pressure on you. I was pleased with our effort in the second half. I thought we got great contributions from Wiggins; his all-around was terrific. Of course Jimmy was Jimmy. Karl was very good. I thought Jeff really got going in the second half as well.”

The Jeff that Thibs is mentioning isn’t my dad Jeff Theige but instead Jeff Teague, who returned to the Wolves starting lineup after missing seven games with a sprained left knee. Despite rocking a hefty knee brace and showing plenty of rust, the Wolves head coach liked what he saw from his 29-year old point guard, adding, “I thought he (Jeff) played great. In the second half, he pushed the ball and got into the paint and made plays. He keeps a lot of pressure on the defense and that’s what you need.”

Teague himself acknowledged that he was a little nervous in his first game back from injury, saying after the game, “I hadn’t played in almost two-and-a-half weeks. Yeah, just nervous playing and things like that. I had an opportunity on the break and I was just a little nervous because I hadn’t really jumped off of it. It was all right.”

As for Jimmy, he talked after the game about the developments on defense that are becoming more and more common for him and his teammates:

For Oklahoma City, last night’s loss marked their fourth loss in six games since losing Andre Roberson to left knee tendinitis. While Russell Westbrook once again balled out (38 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists), he didn’t get much help from his superstar teammates Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The Thunder’s new duo combined for 10/33 shooting, including a meager 3/12 from beyond the arc.

Despite the shooting woes, Thunder coach Billy Donovan liked what he saw from his two new acquisitions, saying, “I thought they got good looks. I thought Carmelo got some really, really good looks that I feel really comfortable with him taking. I think the same thing with Paul. Carmelo I thought had some good looks, it just didn’t go down. Sometimes it’s just going to happen. It was one of those nights for us offensively where we probably didn’t shoot the ball particularly well.“

In the end, the Wolves held the Thunder to 40.5% shooting from the field, out-rebounded the physical OKC team 44-41, and forced 19 turnovers. At 27-16, the Wolves are now on pace for 51.5 wins, leaving plenty of fans feeling like this:

Other Game Notes:

  • With Jeff Teague back in the starting lineup, Tyus Jones moved back to the bench. The third-year PG from Duke was on the court for 19 minutes, but failed to make much of a contribution (three points, one assist, and one steal). Tyus’s minutes going forward will be a major point of contention with Wolves fans, and I for one will be fascinated to see if Thibs ever experiments with playing both he and Teague at the same time.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns secured his league-leading 35th double-double of the season (and 149th of his career).
  • Andrew Wiggins poured in 19 points on 8/15 shooting, marking his 11th consecutive game scoring in double-digits and his 22nd game of the season with 19+ points.
  • Marcus Georges-Hunt’s 11 minutes were the most on-court time he’s seen since December 14th, 2017, and despite only two points, the kid from showed yet again that his physicality on defense alone is deserving of more playing time going forward.
  • One last note from our friends at Timberwolves PR: “In the previous three matchups, Steven Adams went 27-for-33 from the field with a combined 64 points. Tonight the Wolves held him to just eight points on 2-of- 5 shooting.” But keep pumping out that “Towns can’t defend” narrative, national media.