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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander crushed the Wolves with 20 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and 10 assists in his first triple-double.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Thunder 117, Wolves 104: A Glimpse of What SGA Can Be

“You have to give Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] a lot of credit,” said Thunder coach, Billy Donovan.

MINNEAPOLIS — There are a variety of reasons for what appeared to be the smallest crowd of the season on Monday night. The watchability of this current team without Karl-Anthony Towns, who sat out for the 14th time with a left knee sprain and now the flu, is rather low to begin with.

Most people don’t want to spend money to see a roster littered with youngsters and guys on 1-year deals that won’t be around next season. Flash Seats plays a role in this too, as does the weather. Not to mention the college football National Championship between LSU and Clemson took place tonight. And obviously who could forget about the newest episode of The Bachelor airing on ABC? The point is this: One could be forgiven for not making the trek down to the old Target Center to see the 12th place Wolves take on a Thunder team that most honorably hasn’t taken much of a step back without Paul George and Russell Westbrook in the picture. The franchise is also last in home attendance at 14,585 per game, so this isn’t exactly a new problem. But terrible attendance like tonight should be a reminder of how far this organization still has to go and how many fans they still have to win back and gain the trust of.

So, about the game. After a competitive first half, the Thunder’s inarguably more talented and seasoned roster spoke for itself in the 117-104 win. 21-year-old Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA) was masterful, finishing with 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists. It was his first career triple-double. Alexander became the 24th player in NBA history and the first player this season to record a 20+ point/20+ rebound/10+ assist triple-double. “18 defensive rebounds, that means you’re attacking [the glass],” said Saunders.

This was a glimpse into the Thunder’s future and ultimately the dominant player Gilgeous-Alexander is primed to become. “Coach [Donovan] challenged me before the game to fill the stat sheet and do more things because he thought, and I thought, I was more capable of what I was doing. I just tried to give my full effort out there,” said SGA.

Danilo Gallinari ripped 30 points on the Wolves. Steven Adams got hit in the nuts once again but still kept punishing anyone that stood in his way. “Early on, we were switching him [Gallinari],” said Saunders. “We adjusted, thought we did a bad job at that, but they are a good dribble penetration team, that’s where they get a lot of their kick-outs. It was one of those you pick or choose in terms of are you going to hope they throw the ball into the post and they slow down or are you allowing their three guards to get penetration and they were able to get a little bit of both the rim and three which is why we adjusted in the second half. That hurt us and containing the ball hurt us tonight.”

SGA: “A guy like Gallo is always a mismatch. We just try to find him more. It makes it easier on the rest of us because once he exploits the mismatch, they have to double team which leaves a guy open. Gallo did a great job exploiting mismatches tonight.”

Chris Paul was rather terrible for his standards (10/4/3 on 14 shots) especially in the first half being held to zero points and zero assists, marking the first time in his career he played 10+ minutes in a half and did not score or dish out an assist. Of course, CP3 wasn’t going to be silenced all night. He still set up the offense well in the second half. Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schroder both added 14 points. This victory was all about the dominance of SGA and Gallo.

Naz Reid led the way for the Wolves, finishing with a season-high 20 points on 7-13 shooting, including a season-high 4-8 from deep. Reid becomes the fifth rookie center in NBA history to connect on four three-pointers in a game, joining Joel Embiid, Cherokee Parks, Pero Antic and Josh Harrellson (Source: Basketball Reference).

“Naz is a good player,” said Josh Okogie. “I mean, he’s proven that already and everybody knows it. That’s what I expect from him every night and I think he’s capable of doing it.”

While Naz can look like a scoring machine at times, as he did tonight, it should always be noted how the rest of his game, namely his defense and rebounding, is severely lacking. Reid grabbed one rebound in 18 minutes. That’s not going to cut it. Defensively, it’s a bit absurd how he’s never called for 3-second violations when he stands flat-footed in the lane for 5-8 second stretches what feels like almost every possession. Is Naz paying the refs to turn a blind eye? Watch how he plants himself in the middle of the lane next time he’s on the floor. At some point, the refs are going to notice this one film and make an example of him kind of like how they call Gorgui for traveling every single possible opportunity they get.

Robert Covington knocked down four treys, marking his 10th straight game scoring a three and his sixth game of the season connecting on at least four triples. Cov had 18 points, four rebounds, and three steals. There were some wild drives in there, though he remains one of the adults on this roster that can keep this team in games. Over his last 10 contests, Lord Glovington leads the league with 26 steals. That’s positive! Shabazz Napier collected 16 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Bazz has had a good run as starting point guard and seems like someone Gersson Rosas should try to bring back on the cheap next season if possible. Napier knocked down three from deep, reaching 300 career three-pointers. Take that for data!

Jarrett Culver scored 14 points to go with five boards on 7-15 shooting, marking his eighth straight game in double-digits. His potential to become an elite driver remains a bright spot. There’s not a ton to get excited about right now outside of Culver’s improvement, so if it seems like that’s all I tweet about these days, it’s probably due to that. Eventually, his finishing is going to improve with seasoning — the good thing is that JC can get to the rim at will right now. The hope is they can fix his shot or at least restructure the motion to become more consistent from deep. (The free throws should come around.)

Andrew Wiggins started decently before quickly disappearing for the rest of the night. They need way more out of him, which is an evergreen sentence. 10 points on 12 shots and 3 assists. -22. The team has been dealing with illnesses over the past month, most notably Wiggins, but he was asleep in this one. They stand no chance if he’s out of it like this.

“I’m not sure,” Saunders said when asked about Wiggins slowing down after starting well. “We obviously need more from everybody when we have guys that are out who are big parts of this team. I was happy with what some of the guys…I was happy with what Naz [Reid] was able to do. I was happy with Josh’s [Okogie] dribble penetration. Jarrett [Culver], I thought he did some good things along with Cov [Robert Covington] and Bazz [Shabazz Napier] and Treveon [Graham].”

In an otherwise forgettable game, the glowing performance by SGA, the type of young guard we can only dream of having in a Wolves uniform, is the only memorable aspect of another loss without KAT and only serves to remind what they are missing. That stinks to type but the truth often hurts the heart. Yes, the truth often hurts the heart.

This franchise desperately needs a player like Shai as soon as possible.