The Oklahoma City Thunder got off to a hot start on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. OKC stopped them three times and scored three times.
The first bucket came off a Russell Westbrook catch-and-shoot three, followed by a transition layup after the guard grabbed a rebound. Then, center Steven Adams pulled down a board for a put-back dunk. The Thunder found themselves up 7-0, which turned into 12-2 before eventually leading 22-8. The Timberwolves were being torched on their home court on Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised game, sandwiched in between the NCAA Final Four on Saturday and the NCAA National Championship on Monday.
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However, five minutes into the game, the Thunder fell back to Earth. Minnesota got hot and shot 11-for-17 and scored 23 points in the last seven minutes of the quarter. Despite leading 38-31 at the break, the Thunder gave off the vibe of a losing team.
“As the quarter went on later in the first and into the second, we lost some of that intensity,” coach Billy Donovan said. “They made some shots, got back in the game very, very quickly.”
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In the second quarter, Andrew Wiggins showed up with some clutch shots and led his team on a 19-9 run to take the lead. Somehow, the game developed into a back-and-forth slugfest. With a chucker like Westbrook, trading baskets isn’t sustainable. The Thunder knew that.
But both teams continued to ride their hot hands into the second half, scoring on 13 of their first 14 possessions. When Westbrook finally missed, this time on two free throws late in the third quarter, Minnesota jumped on it. A 22-5 run left them with a 93-83 lead.
Then, backup guard Dennis Schroder came off the bench. He scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and provided a much-needed change of pace as he used his quickness and ball-handling to attack a tired defense.
“Schroder was able to turn the corner on the big man and get downhill. He got the ball in space where he was able to put the defender in a tough spot,” said Donovan. “A couple times they left him and took the roll to the basket, and it gave him an open lane to drive. He made good decisions when he got in there.”
Shroder propeled the team to a 116-103 lead with just six minutes left and then Westbrook and potential MVP candidate Paul George returned to secure the win. Despite Adams fouling out with just less than half the quarter left, the two held on for a 132-126 win.
“Just poise,” Westbrook said when asked how he secured the win. “Doing a good job of getting the matchups we wanted and the shots we wanted.”
Westbrook ended the game with his 32nd triple-double of the year, scoring 27 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. George scored 27 points in addition to pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out six assists. Karl Anthony-Towns moved into third-place in team history in points scored for Minnesota. His 35 points were a new game-high.
Minnesota fell to 36-44. They’re tied for No. 10 in the Western Conference and will miss the playoffs. Oklahoma City is 47-33, good for a tie for sixth. Each team has two games left in the regular season.