Despite yet another game in the face of adversity– 10 healthy players on the road against a fully stocked roster – the resilient Thunder battled and stuck to the game plan. It took the collective effort of every single player, but the result was seven players in double figures and a convincing victory on the road.
Coming into the game, the Thunder fully expected it would take contributions from every player to put itself in a position to beat the Wolves. The squad was without Nerlens Noel, Danilo Gallinari, Terrance Ferguson and Abdel Nader. Steven Adams returned to the lineup for the first game back after an ankle sprain that kept him out for two games. From the start, Saturday night was going to be a game that required impact form everyone who touched the floor.
It took some time to get the ball rolling for the Thunder’s defense as Karl Anthony Towns made his presence known in Target Center in the first quarter of the game. The center accounted for 19 of his team’s first 20 points after going 7-9 from the field and 3-4 from behind the arc all in the first seven minutes of the game. Pick and roll situations forced the Thunder to switch leaving a guard on an island with the handful of Towns in the paint.
The Thunder stayed in it. Mike Muscala checked into the game and knocked down a triple in his very first possession, continuing in his hot shooting streak over the past three games. After seeing the ball go through the hoop, the lid lifted off the rim for OKC. Dennis Schröder then knocked down two 3-pointers and Mike added one more. OKC finished the quarter on a 9-0 run allowing its lead to grow to 28-22. When Towns exited the game, the Wolves only scored one basket.
Once the Thunder figured out the formula, Towns was surrounded by bodies on every touch. After allowing 19 points in the first quarter, the Thunder only gave up five from him in the second.
“I thought we made some mistakes. The floor was too spread on him. I thought we gave him too much space to play in,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “We did a better job crowding the floor on him and at least putting some people around him where he didn’t have so much room to operate.”
Out of the gates of the second half, the Thunder rattled off six unanswered points while forcing a contested step back 3-pointer for Towns resulting in an easy break for the Thunder. This foreshadowed the events of the third quarter for OKC who outscored Minnesota 39-24 in the third frame. Luguentz Dort went 2-2 from behind the arc; Chris Paul rattled in 13; and the Thunder held the Wolves to only 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 26, 2020
By the end of the third, the Thunder’s offensive production bolstered its lead to 19. However, the Wolves wouldn’t go down without a battle which meant another strong fourth quarter was required for the Thunder to leave Minnesota as victors and win its eighth out of its last nine road games.
“We always say something on a road trip ‘you can’t win them all without winning the first one’,” Paul said postgame. “We just keep staying together. Before the night we said we’re going to need everybody, and we literally needed everybody.”
A late fourth quarter swell which included four 3-pointers from the Timberwolves brought the Thunder’s comfortable double-digit lead to only five with one minute remaining. Throughout the whole game, the Thunder’s savvy point guard Chris Paul had been putting his teammates in positions to score and quietly racking up 19 points through the first three quarters. He scored in the midrange, at the rim and at the free throw line. However, when the time came for Paul to put a bow on Saturday’s hard-fought game, the veteran delivered.
“He’s obviously great back there, he’s smart, made some big shots, quieted some runs and did some really, really good things that kind of allowed us to maintain control of the game,” said Donovan.
Coming out of the timeout, Paul dribbled the ball across half court with Jordan McLaughlin glued to his hip. Mike Muscala ran up to center court to set a screen for his point guard and get him some space to operate. Paul accelerated off the screen, navigated multiple help defenders and stopped on a dime in the middle of the lane to send up a floater over the outstretched arm of Andrew Wiggins.
With time stacked against them, the Wolves desperately needed an answer. Robert Covington, who made a triple only moments before let one fly in hopes of maintaining some momentum. The ball hit the rim and landed in the hands of the Thunder which led to a foul and two free throws for Dennis Schröder who put the Thunder up nine points with a scant 30 seconds remaining.
When Wiggins attempted to make a play on the other end, he was met with Thunder rookie, Luguentz Dort who poked the ball away and emerged with his second steal of the game to close the lid on a Minnesota comeback.
“Young guys, amazing once again.” Said Paul. “Lu Dort, you can’t tell me that he’s a rookie.”
It was an uncharacteristically quiet night for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in terms of scoring. However, the sophomore dazzled with another level to his patented scoop game.
SGA attacked from the right wing into the middle of the paint. He got a step on his defender but needed to shake the help that came in his direction. Gilgeous-Alexander gathered the ball and with one step, he sent the ball behind him with one hand as if he intended on throwing a behind the back pass. Instead, he swung the ball back in front of him and scooped the ball into the rim with minimal contest.
For the second straight game, seven Thunder players scored in double figures. In a game riddled with adversity stacked against the Thunder, all nine players to step on the floor knew they had a role to play in the team’s success. As a result, seven of those nine players posted double digits including the Thunder’s youthful contingent of Hamidou Diallo, Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort.
Bazley: 19yrs | Dort: 20yrs | Diallo: 21yrs
Dort: 4 starts. 4 wins.
The Bench scored 52 points.
7 players scored in double-figures tonight.
We’re 5-0 on the 2nd night of the last 5 back-to-backs.
We’re 9-1 over the past 10 road games. pic.twitter.com/m9X9zsyQEl
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 26, 2020
“I think the end result is double figures but we focus on the process of moving the ball and just finding the open man so I think that’s just the result of that,” said Muscala who was also a member of the double-digit scoring club with 11 off the bench.
“It’s been a special team given the situation night in and night out unsure of who was going to play, we just step up and we don’t really care,” said Paul.
“Tonight was a team effort. Obviously, we had some guys who were out, we just battled… I was just proud of how we battled tonight.”– Mike Muscala
“We’ve got a group that’s really competitive. They like playing with one another and there’s a resiliency about them and they lift each other up. They like competing and playing and they’ve done a really good job working together which is great.” -Billy Donovan
The Thunder improve to four straight victories and have won the past eight out of nine on the road. Sunday will be a much-needed day off before returning to action in Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday to take on Dallas.