As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder prepare for their Friday night clash at Target Center, let’s review their four regular season meetings.
Minnesota played Oklahoma City in two of their first three games of the season, winning both contests. Those two games produced some of the earliest film of the two-big lineup featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, which, like the rest of the season, was underwhelming.
We saw flashes of excellence from Naz Reid and Anthony Edwards in the other two meetings, a surprise start from Wendell Moore Jr., and a first-hand look at why Shai Gilgeous-Alexander earned his first All-Star appearance.
Oct. 19: Wolves 115, Thunder 108: Timberwolves Take Season Opener, First Look at Two-Big Pairing
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year had a great debut in a Timberwolves uniform, scoring 23 points and pulling down 16 rebounds. Gobert was efficient and dominated against a Thunder team that lacked an interior force, as they started Aleksej Pokusevski at center and rotated in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and others in the front-court.
The Thunder simply didn’t have the size and strength to hang with Gobert inside, but his front-court partner wasn’t quite able to capitalize on the favorable matchup as well as he did.
Towns shot just 2-for-10 from the field in the season opener, finishing with 12 points. The former Kentucky Wildcat was pestered by Eugene Omoruyi for some of the night, which limited KAT’s ability to play physical (Omoruyi is 6-foot-7, 244 pounds).
Omoruyi’s play in the Thunder-Wolves games this season nearly placed him on the “Wolves Killers” list, with timely buckets and swarming defense in three of their four matchups. Luckily for the Wolves, Omoruyi is now a member of the Detroit Pistons.
We also can’t forget about this miraculous moment from Gobert in his Wolves debut:
You can cross Rudy Gobert saving the Wolves with a 14-foot floater at the 3Q buzzer off your bingo card— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) October 20, 2022
Oct. 23: Wolves 116, Thunder 106: Anthony Edwards Logs Second Straight 30-Point Game
Just four days later, Minnesota and Oklahoma City squared off once again.
After a quiet outing in the first game, Anthony Edwards scored 30 points on 13-for-19 shooting and recorded 11 rebounds. His plus/minus of +22 was second on the team, trailing only Jordan McLaughlin who posted a +23 in 21 minutes played with zero points scored.
Edwards got off to a blistering start, scoring 12 points in the opening quarter and taking advantage of a lackluster front-court.
Anthony Edwards dominant 1st quarter performance, completely unguardable pic.twitter.com/fXuo8NGrIX— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) October 24, 2022
Despite the hot start, the Timberwolves didn’t shoot the ball well from beyond the arc (2/10 in the first half). An average evening from deep — in addition to their big night from Ant — might’ve led to a blowout, but their 29% from 3-point land kept the game close (as did the Thunder’s well-balanced, team ball attack).
Without Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s supporting cast did a good job of keeping them in the game. Six players scored in double figures in the contest.
Although poor 3-point shooting percentages hasn’t been a huge issue for Minnesota this season (37%, ranks 13th in the league), stagnant offense certainly has. If the Wolves start missing shots from deep on Friday as they did in this game, we might be in store for (another) tough offensive showing.
Dec. 3: Thunder 135, Wolves 128: Immaturity Strikes, Emotions Boil Over
In front of a packed Target Center, Minnesota blew a fourth quarter lead and fell to Oklahoma City in a game that featured the Wolves being called for five technical fouls in the contest. Gobert was ejected in the first quarter after a tangle with Kenrich Williams, an incredibly significant loss considering the Thunder’s lack of an interior presence. Now without Towns, Gobert was that much more critical to the Timberwolves’ process.
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
Edwards and D’Angelo Russell combined for 53 points on the evening, and Jaylen Nowell added 21 points off the bench. A tremendous scoring input from that trio wouldn’t prove to be enough, as the defense surrendered a whopping 135 points.
Powered by Gilgeous-Alexander’s 33 points, OKC had another well-balanced attack against the Wolves, with six other players joining Gilgeous-Alexander by scoring in double figures.
It proved to be one of Minnesota’s patented games where emotions boil over, leading to sloppy play and foul trouble throughout the contest. Jaden McDaniels only played 18 minutes due to foul trouble, they turned it over 23 times, and as mentioned, they picked up FIVE technicals.
Immaturity and subsequent sloppy and erratic play has been an issue all year long, and it’s certainly a possibility it could show up again in Friday’s meeting. Williams is out for the season, so there won’t be any friends making up on the floor between he and Gobert.
Dec. 16: Wolves 112, Thunder 110: Naz Reid.
Now down both of their starting centers, the door was open for Reid to shine and, boy, did he ever.
Naz Reid delivered the best game of his young career— Canis Hoopus (@canishoopus) December 17, 2022
✅ 28 points
✅ 8/13 2PT | 3/5 3PT | 3/7 FT
✅ 9 rebounds
✅ 3 assists
✅ 2 steals
✅ 1 block
✅ Game-high +21 in 37 min
It was a bit of foreshadowing of what was in store for the LSU product this season, with his spark plug scoring, awe-inspiring athleticism and well-rounded offensive game on full display.
As he did so often in 2022-23, Reid provided a scoring punch when the team desperately needed it. Outside, inside, getting to the line, he was all of over the place.
The fourth-year big only topped this 28-point outing one other time this season, when he scored 30 against the Warriors on Feb. 26.
Edwards scored just 19 points (on an efficient 50% shooting night), but provided the Timberwolves with a playmaking boost with seven assists. He also pulled down 11 rebounds in the win.
On Friday Minnesota will be desperate for a scoring boost from the bench, and without Reid they’ll have to pivot to the starting lineup for even more of an input.
What Might Resurface on Friday
OKC’s Lack of Interior Size
With rookie Jaylin Williams now in the rotation, the Thunder have more muscle than they did in past matchups with the Wolves. However, Gobert’s health will obviously be a big factor in whether Minnesota will be able to punish OKC for having limited options on the inside.
Some thoughts a few of us gathered from Rudy Gobert after #Timberwolves practice today. He confirmed what a few of us opined: He wouldn't have played Tuesday if he wasn't suspended. His back just isn't right. But it's improving daily. If OKC game was tonight, he'd try and play. pic.twitter.com/5lSI1FLfyG— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) April 13, 2023
Regardless of Gobert’s status, it will be on the entire team to take advantage of the Thunder’s lack of size, whether that be Towns and Edwards driving to the cup, Kyle Anderson and Taurean Prince being aggressive off the bounce, and the Wolves dominating the glass.
Poor Outside Shooting/Stagnant Offense/Scoring Punch
Minnesota’s matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday highlighted just how awful their offense can be late in games, with the team scoring just two field goals in the final 11 minutes of play (please stop complaining about officiating).
If the game is close as it enters the fourth quarter, you’d better believe Timberwolves fans will be sweating.
The Timberwolves averaged 0.714 points per possession on their 21 isolations last night.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) April 12, 2023
Minnesota iso'd seven times in the 4Q and did not score off them.
4) Missed 3
5) Missed 3
6) Missed step-back 2
7) Missed 3
It's the reason MIN lost pic.twitter.com/IEs2GMLeuf
Keeping Towns involved down the stretch is critical, as he should have an advantage against many Thunder defenders. On Wednesday, he played eight of 12 fourth-quarter minutes and did not score.
The Timberwolves led by 11 heading into the second half and by seven at the start of the fourth. Building a lead in the first half will be essential to clinching the No. 8 spot and locking in a series with the Nuggets.
Immaturity and Erratic Play
This season has been a rollercoaster, and the game on Dec. 3 is a good microcosm of the Wolves’ year so far.
Complaining about officiating, receiving technical fouls and sporadic effort have been constant issues. Mike Conley has been a huge boost in the maturity department, and his veteran presence will be critical in a game with such high stakes.
"Not everybody can be cool as a cucumber like me." -- Mike Conley— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) April 12, 2023
Despite their up-and-down nature, this Timberwolves group has been known to play up or down to the competition, and they did well to hang tough in their Play-In matchup in Los Angeles until the second half. If they can put together a more even outing on Friday, they’re more than capable of securing the final playoff spot.
Even though nothing is guaranteed with this team — and they seem to do their best to raise our heart rates — you certainly cannot say this team doesn’t have some fight in them.