Thunder vs. Minnesota Timberwolves Game Recap – Oct. 22, 2017

In the NBA, there are aspects of the game you can control, and a handful of things you can’t. On Sunday night, the Thunder got beat by both.

A furious rally erased a 13-point fourth quarter deficit and put the Thunder up by one with 5.1 seconds remaining, but Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins took the inbounds pass, slalomed through Thunder defenders and one oversized screen from Karl-Anthony Towns, and banked in a 30-foot heave at the buzzer to give the Thunder a 115-113 loss.

Drama in OKC. Comeback falls just short.

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Oct 22, 2017 at 6:31pm PDT

The fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena were stunned, because over the final seven minutes or so, the Thunder’s defense was as tight as you can get. Unfortunately, it was too tight at times, as the Timberwolves knocked down six straight free throws to keep Oklahoma City at bay.

Still, the Thunder was relentless, and that’s no surprise with Russell Westbrook operating as a floor general. First Westbrook drove left around a Steven Adams screen, barreling into the lane for a banked-in runner through contact with 51 seconds to go.

“Coach did a great job of drawing up some good plays to execute down the stretch and we made the right plays,” Westbrook said.

Wiggins scored on a put-back dunk – the product of a costly missed box out that Steven Adams would bemoan after the game. On the next possession, however, Westbrook was undeterred. He dribbled right, floating around another Adams screen, to rise up for a game-tying three-pointer.

“That’s why he’s the MVP. He’s going to make the right plays,” George said of Westbrook. “At the point position, it doesn’t get any better.”

Russ scored 15 of his 31 in 4th. @budweiser Photo of the Game.

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Oct 22, 2017 at 6:38pm PDT

The Thunder buckled down defensively, as Andre Roberson forced Wiggins to give up the ball. It ended up in Towns’ hands, and the talented, dynamic center somehow managed to drive left from the baseline towards the middle of the floor and sink a 9-foot floater with 10.9 seconds left.

Head Coach Billy Donovan called timeout, and drew up a beautiful play that was executed to a tee, even though this Thunder bunch is still finding it’s rhythm and hadn’t faced a crunch time test to date. Westbrook used a dummy screen from Paul George to drive left, freezing the defense, then he dished to Carmelo Anthony who waited eagerly and drained a clutch three-pointer from the left wing.

“I thought we won the game,” Anthony said. “I thought we were going to pull that out.”

Wiggins’ missile to the backboard and eventually the bottom of the net capsized the Thunder’s last-second enthusiasm, but the team had the perspective required to put the full 48 minutes into context. The game didn’t truly come down to the 30-footer. It was the 19 second chance points allowed and Minnesota’s plus-9 rebounding edge, and the fact that the Timberwolves shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and attempted seven more free throws than the Thunder on the night.

“The urgency, that’s who we need to be that last five minutes. That’s the Thunder team we need to be,” George said. “Regardless of if shots are falling or not, defensively we were tied together and had energy. It was causing our offense to play at that level as well.”

“We see some sparks and some good things that we know we can do at a high level. We just have to do it for 48 minutes,” Westbrook concluded.

Thunder Highlights:

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Reserves Kept the Thunder in It

Up until the final minutes of the game, the Thunder’s starters didn’t play particularly well on this second night of a divisional back-to-back. But the Thunder stayed in the game thanks to a group of reserves that battled and fought during their stretches of play. Led at the point guard position by the aggressive, attacking Raymond Felton, the Thunder made a 9-1 run at the end of the first quarter and a 12-2 burst to begin the final frame.

“Ray is very underrated at that backup point position. His leadership, his veteran savviness,” George noted. “He’s a winner in my book. That’s the reason he’s here. It’s good to be on the floor with him.

Anthony was out there with the group and he feasted, finishing with 23 points, but he was jkoined in double figures by Felton who scored 12 on 5-for-7 shooting and Jerami Grant, who also had 12 points, including a three-pointer and a pair of ferocious dunks.

“Raymond was extremely aggressive today coming off the bench. He made some shots, attacked the defense in pick and rolls and made the right plays,” Anthony said of Felton, whom he’s known since high school. “That’s the Raymond I know and I’m used to. That’s something that we’re going to look forward to him bringing to our team, especially with the bench and that unit.”

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By the Numbers

13 – Rebounds for Steven Adams to go with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting for his first double-double of the season

20-6 – The Thunder’s edge in fast break points, aided by 18 Timberwolves turnovers that led to 23 Thunder points

31 – Points for Russell Westbrook on 12-for-24 shooting, including a 5-for-8 mark from three-point range. Westbrook also had 10 assists and 5 rebounds

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The Last Word

“We did a great job of fighting back. Our defense in the last five minutes of the game was incredible, scrambling and helping. Russ did a great job of getting us back in the game, being aggressive on the offensive end, playing downhill. We have to take that one on the chin tonight.”­ – forward Carmelo Anthony

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