The Oklahoma City Thunder have lost just one game this season when leading heading into the fourth quarter. They were 28-1 overall. That total climbed to two on Monday night, with both losses now courtesy of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It didn’t come on the toes of a blown lead, nor bad defense. This game had a playoff feel by every stretch of the imagination, with elite shotmaking back and forth down the stretch. It was a welcomed change of pace for a Wolves team that so desperately needed a nod of confidence in the clutch. They came into Monday 2-5 since January 7th in clutch games, and saw blown, or near blown leads in its previous five games. Their defense had slipped, and the offense was nearly nonexistent. For Monday, at least, those issues seemed to have been tabled.
“We just played tougher in the second half,” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterward. “The separation came down the stretch with out defense...finally.”
ARE YOU SERIOUS, ANTHONY EDWARDS?!?!?— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 30, 2024
“That’s what we’ve been struggling with,” he went on. “[Anthony Edwards] did a really good job picking his spots and going quick. We did a really good job finishing this game, which we hadn’t been doing.”
It didn’t look like it would be the case for the entire game, however. Josh Giddey, a 33% 3-point shooter on the year and off the mark on his previous 13 straight 3-point attempts, started the game with nine points on 3-3 shooting from deep just seven minutes into the game. It would have been the potential kep to unlocking an offensive onslaught for the Thunder, with the Wolves sagging off of him heavily, and allowing more of their concentration to lay on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his ultra-dangerous pick and pop game with Chet Holmgren.
Minnesota’s having Gobert roam off Giddey and completely stifle OKC’s half court offense pic.twitter.com/How9YyYX2V— Arya Chawla (@achawlz) January 30, 2024
It didn’t last, and after a 9-2 start in favor of OKC, things settled down a little bit more. The Wolves’ defense stormed back to what fans remember a little bit more fondly from earlier in the season, and held the Thunder to just 40 points with three minutes remaining in the half.
Perhaps the most important part of the win in general? Anthony Edwards and company, on the back of his 27 points, did it without perhaps their most important player in Mike Conley. They were 1-3 entering the evening without Minnesota Mike, with the lone win coming against the Washington Wizards. I think we can say this was a better one.
While timely turnovers and rebounding issues plagued them in spots heading into clutch time, they found a way to pull it out, and it was truly a top to bottom effort; one of the most comprehensive of the season.
Giving Finch His Flowers
This was one of Finch’s better coached games of the season. He put on an absolute clinic, especially defensively.
Coming off of the last two games against OKC in which Minnesota struggled to reel in Chet Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s spacing offensively, Finch made the move to have Rudy Gobert roam and sag off of Josh Giddey at the three point line, and move Jaden McDaniels over to Holmgren and match up with him on the perimeter.
“Jaden was awesome,” Finch said. “We did a good job executing our pick and roll coverages so he didn’t get a lot of separation.”
The results were smashing. Holmgren finished 2-9 from the field with just four points in 32 minutes. He struggled to get separation on McDaniels, and isn’t quite at the point where he can take advantage of him in the post either. With Edwards initially drawing the matchup on Gilgeous-Alexander, it’s incredibly scary to see two wings be able to guard that tandem effectively.
Been hard on McDaniels this year (justifiably imo) but he's been great the past few games, stupid foul the other night aside.— brittrobson (@brittrobson) January 30, 2024
Superb defense with minimal fouls, good shot selection
The other aspect of what Finch showed off tonight was the adjustments in guarding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
SGA is on a fast track in the MVP race. Whether by free throw, a good shooting night, or both, he’s always going to get his. He finished with 37 points, but it was 37 incredibly well-earned points. The Wolves threw McDaniels, Edwards, and perhaps most interestingly Kyle Anderson at him, who was very effective at staying on Gilgeous-Alexander’s hip and forcing contested shots.
Even though Slow-Mo has his warts offensively, he’s been the Wolves most versatile defender, and the decision to have him as a part of the SGA committee was a really, really good one.
You can pound your fist on the table to trade Kyle Anderson all you want.— Andrew Carlson (@andrew_carlson2) January 30, 2024
But he’s taken LeBron, Luka, SGA matchups, even the primary on Jokic and been effective. No one else on the Wolves can say that.
“We had a lot of guys we could throw at Shai,” Finch said. “We did a pretty good job mixing it up and trying to fly around after that.”
Jordan McLaughlin is the unsung hero of this game and it isn’t really too close.
Aside from making incredibly important shots that kept the Wolves in the game in the second half, his efficiency was off-the-charts good. J-Mac finished with 10 points in 13 minutes on 4-4 shooting (2-2 from deep).
It’s the first time since February of last season in which McLaughlin hasn’t missed a shot in a game when he’s taken more than one field goal, and the first time since April of 2021 that he’s been perfect from beyond thr arc when taking more than one shot from range.
Jordan McLaughlin PnR pull-up 3 pic.twitter.com/srjjq78tAr— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) January 30, 2024
“J-Mac was huge, really big...really big.”
Two “really big”s from Finch. I think that says it all.
The Wolves will head back to Target Center for the first time since the infamous Karl-Anthony Towns 62-point game just over a week ago. A fellow top team in the Western Conference that’s also facing struggles of its own in the Dallas Mavericks will await them.
After a come-from-behind win down 17 at one point in Orlando, Dallas has still dropped four of its last six games. It’s a good opportunity for the Wolves to leave a better taste in fans’ mouths after their last home game, which left everyone scratching their heads.
It’s also a great opportunity for Minnesota to continue face its ghosts of games past, in which their last game against the Mavs resulted in a fourth quarter collapse that saw Dallas go on a 19-9 run down the stretch that unofficially marked the start of the Wolves’ fourth quarter bugaboos.