Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Game Recap – April 11, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — It was game number 81. The Thunder’s playoff seed was already set and the team opted to rest four of its players, including three starters. Still, with just over four minutes to go against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder was out there playing their collective hearts out.

Victor Oladipo sprinted ahead in transition, grabbed an offensive rebound, went up once and came up short, fought for it again, broke through contact and willed the ball into the basket. And-one.

“It was a big possession, a big play in transition. I missed the original one and kept fighting for it,” Oladipo explained.

“What you want to do, is you don’t want to lose habits,” Head Coach Billy Donovan opined. “Victor is a competitive guy. He plays hard, he plays with energy and plays with a motor. That play probably epitomizes who he is and who he tries to be.”

That hustle play factor big time in the end result, setting up the final piece of Oladipo’s 20-point, nine-rebound, six-assist night. After running a pick-and-roll at the top of the key, Oladipo was isolated on the left side and dribbled into a 21-foot jumper that splashed through the net with 6.3 seconds left.

“I just went in aggressively and just rose up and shot the ball with confidence,” Oladipo described. “I just thank my teammates for having the belief in me to be in that position to take that shot.”

Oh by the way, the jumper was released from a similar spot on the floor as the one Westbrook hit to seal Sunday’s win in Denver, only Oladipo’s was about 10 feet closer to the hoop.

“We all stood up and knew he was going to take the shot, and he hit it. We have another Russ on the team,” point guard Semaj Christon said, tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

One defensive stop later, and the Thunder, shorthanded as it was without Russell Westbrook, Taj Gibson, Andre Roberson and Doug McDermott, earned a 100-98 victory.

Oladipo had plenty of teammates who played with tenacity alongside him on the night, as five other players scored in double figures. Domas Sabonis was chief among them, in his old familiar starting role. The rookie forward chipped in 19 points, added nine rebounds and dished out three of the Thunder starting lineup’s 16 assists on the night. Oladipo and Christon each had six.

“It was good for us, we did a great job of moving the ball and trusting each other,” Oladipo reviewed. “A lot of guys stepped up and played great for us. We were moving the ball, everybody felt good and we did a good job closing out the game.”

“We were just moving the ball and making the right plays,” Christon added.

Meanwhile, Donovan’s squad held Minnesota to just 36.6 percent shooting in the first half of the game, and 44.2 percent overall. The Thunder got off to a wonderful start, ripping off a 37-6 run that spanned the back half of the first quarter and start of the second period, eventually racking up a 22-point lead. The Timberwolves made a second half charge that made it a game again, which resulted in 18 lead changes and seven ties for the night.

All season long, the Thunder has focused on developing a defense-first mindset, but as a unit also having an offensive identity when Westbrook is off the court. Tonight was the team’s first opportunity to test that out for a full 48 minutes.

First off, would the Thunder be able to match the intensity, focus and determination that Westbrook leads them to every night? Secondly, could the team execute and be effective for four quarters? The answers to both were yes. The team shot 50 percent in the first half, made hustle plays down the stretch and were dominant on the glass, racking up 22 second chance points.

“This is something we’ve worked on all the way back in training camp. There are things these guys can go to that they’re comfortable with,” Donovan said. “We did a lot of good things. We did the things we needed to do.”

Thunder wins! Goes 3-1 on the road trip.

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Apr 11, 2017 at 7:37pm PDT

Thunder Highlights:

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By the Numbers

2-for-3 – Shooting numbers for Alex Abrines, who scored six points in 14:41 in his return to action

54-35 – Rebounding numbers for the Thunder, who got eight rebounds apiece from Enes Kanter and Jerami Grant off the bench as the Thunder’s reserves outrebounded the Timberwolves’ bench unit 21-6

91 – Three-pointers made by Alex Abrines this season, two shy of tying the Thunder’s rookie record for most threes in a season

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The Last Word

“I’m happy we fought through the whole game, the 48 minutes. We had a tough stretch in the third quarter but we pulled it out in the fourth.” – forward Domas Sabonis

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