On a night where the Minnesota Timberwolves were supposed to take center stage in front of a full Target Center on a Saturday night, they let the referees do so, and gave up a fourth quarter lead in the process to the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder.
There were missed calls. Especially a pivotal charging call on Anthony Edwards that, in the eyes of many, should have been reversed. The score was 119-113 when it was called.
This play in the Wolves Thunder game was called a charge on the floor, reviewed, and the ruling was upheld… pic.twitter.com/ThQqTeJh10— ProCity Hoops (@ProCityHoops) December 4, 2022
But it’s not the reason you lose that game, especially coming off of an emotional win against the full strength Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Edwards would get T’d up, and the wheels fell off from there.
“Frustrations boiled over,” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterwards. “We needed a more mature effort than that.”
In this case, that could be measured quantifiably. The Wolves picked up FIVE technical fouls over the course of the game, and a first-quarter ejection in which Rudy Gobert lost his composure on Kenrich Williams.
Rudy Gobert was given a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game for tripping Kenrich Williams after this play.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 4, 2022
Williams was given a technical. pic.twitter.com/iIqBS9NOuK
Gobert posed a MASSIVE mismatch heading into the game, against a Thunder team that had no active player over 7-feet. He was off to a flying start as well with six points and four rebounds before getting ousted. It forced the Wolves to play small-ball against a team that was already doing so. Naz Reid answered the call (more on that later), but the Gobert situation poses a painful “what could have been” scenario.
It was a perfect opportunity for him and Anthony Edwards to build chemistry against a team with a constant mouse in the house.
Instead - it was an erratic game, and the surgical nature in the third that gave the Wolves a 10-point quarter win (44-34) and the lead, evaporated.
The officiating was bad, but it was not the crux.
Turnovers and Mishaps
Careless turnovers plagued the Wolves yet again, giving the ball back to the Thunder 23 times. OKC was plenty careless with 21 of their own. But losing the turnover battle, in addition to the free throw battle, and shooting battle, is not a sustainable recipe for success. Especially coming off of a +14 turnover margin against Memphis.
“Just sloppy,” Finch said. “We were a beat late on a lot of plays...over-penetrated and gave ourselves bad angles.”
Facilitation was a pain point. Kyle Anderson and D’Angelo Russell matched each other with four turnovers, and Anthony Edwards had five.
Edwards would finish the game with 26 points and 6 steals...but the biggest stat was that he was held scoreless in the fourth quarter; a quarter that OKC won by 11 points.
In the midst of a loss, D’Angelo Russell played his best three quarters of the season. The ball got a little sticky in the fourth quarter, but D-Lo’s shotmaking, and surprisingly on-ball defense made a big different in the Wolves having a lead against a team equipped to play small ball.
He also took advantage of the lack of paint presence, and got to the basket a little bit more.
“I Thought D-Lo he did a good job early recognizing when the drives to the basket were,” Finch said.
Russell finished with his second highest point total on the season with 27, adding 6 assists.
Reid shouldered a lot more minutes than usual with Gobert ejected and Jaden McDaniels in foul trouble.
In need of a rebounding presence against the aforementioned smaller Thunder team, Reid posted a career-high 18, the most off the bench in franchise history since Kevin Love posted 22...pretty good company! Chris Finch was impressed postgame as well.
“[Naz] rebounded extremely well,” Finch said. “He just needs to do it every night and play with more physicality.”
He added 13 points and was key in spacing the floor for Edwards to have space to attack in the first three quarters. He was shaken up on multiple plays in the paint, and there was a point in the first half where he went down in pain on three consecutive possessions.
“I’m hurt. I got sinus infections. Body in pain. But I’m tough. I’ll get through it,” Reid said.
The Wolves will have a few days to rebound as they don’t play again until Wednesday...a home game against the Indiana Pacers. The last time the two teams clashed, Minnesota played its best game of the season to date.
Can they replicate?