The Wolves have had a penchant in recent years for somehow duping a very competent Oklahoma City Thunder team, and that mystifying theme continued tonight with Ryan Saunders’ second consecutive win against them. Something about playing the Thunder brings out the best in this Wolves team. Minnesota is 7-2 against the Thunder going back to 2017, including two wins at Oklahoma City earlier this season. The final of four matchups on the season between these two teams will come on April 7.
Tonight was one of those rare games where the Wolves got out of the gates on the right foot and maintained that energy throughout the rest of the contest. Karl-Anthony Towns set the tone for Minnesota from the get-go in this one, finishing with 41 points and 14 rebounds and passing Wally Szczerbiak as fifth on the Wolves’ all-time scoring list. He managed to stay out of foul trouble for the most part, which allowed him to get in a groove. Towns is noticeably more engaged on defense when he’s clicking on offense, and that showed tonight.
Aside from KAT’s strong play, Derrick Rose ended up with 19 points off the bench in just 19 minutes. Dario Saric also had a solid game, posting 10 points and seven rebounds of his own. Saric in particular has been a big proponent in the Wolves’ improved perimeter passing, which was on display tonight. He had a few great drive-and-kick passes to find open shooters for high-percentage looks.
The Wolves as a whole looked more comfortable on the perimeter tonight with good overall spacing that allowed for some effective skip passes, which ultimately opened up the floor to give KAT some breathing room down low.
With Luol Deng out tonight and Gorgui Dieng’s minutes taking a hit in recent weeks, Keita Bates-Diop saw the floor again tonight for 12 minutes, where he finished with five points. His length and athletic build could be very promising for this Wolves team, but he currently looks like a baby giraffe out there trying to keep track of his limbs. If anything good were to come out of the Wolves falling out of playoff contention, it’s getting him and Okogie as much playing time/experience as possible.
Minnesota’s defensive woes have been well documented to this point, so I don’t need to waste too many characters explaining how they weren’t remarkable on that end. The Thunder’s issues on offense for the most part stemmed from the fact that they just simply couldn’t get shots to fall. They struggled mightily from the line where they shot 58% as a unit (compared to the Wolves’ 74%). And while they were able to hit 18 threes, they attempted a monstrous 46.
Paul George, who was ruled out for tonight as late as this afternoon, has been experiencing shoulder issues and that likely played a big factor in his play tonight. The worthy MVP candidate finished with 25 points, but he shot just 8-25 from the field and 4-14 from deep. (Meanwhile Russell Westbrook went for 38 points and 13 rebounds.)
Ultimately, you can chalk this one up to KAT’s continued excellence and Paul George’s injury. Towns is playing at an All-NBA level, and it’s fun to watch even knowing the Wolves (very likely) won’t make the playoffs. The tear he has been on recently has been remarkable, and it’s a shame that the Wolves’ record won’t have much to show for it when this season’s all said and done.