After a gut-wrenching loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, the Thunder came back 24 hours later and put together a record-setting first half, en route to a 120-118 victory.
The victory wasn’t pretty, but I’ll start with what the Thunder did well. The first half was a masterful performance, scoring 83 points on 29-of-48 shooting, and more impressively, not allowing the Timberwolves to get much of anything at all on the offensive end of the floor. On Friday, the Thunder were shorthanded with no depth at the guard position, and on Saturday, they were shorthanded with limited depth in their front court.
Matchup-wise, Saturday’s situation favored the Thunder because they could play fast, which proved to be Minnesota’s kryptonite. They played fast on defense, forcing Minnesota into plenty of ill-advised shots, shooting 10-of-26 in the first quarter. They played quickly on the offensive end, using an inside-out method on the Timberwolves’ defense. Their focus was getting buckets in the paint in the first quarter, where 26 of their 43 points came. In the second, when Minnesota started to figure out OKC’s strategy and pack the paint, the Thunder stretched their offense out beyond the perimeter, shooting 6-of-9 from three for 18 points while only scoring eight points in the paint. OKC also got to the free-throw line with ease, shooting 10-13 in the second.
Up 83-60 at halftime, and seeing how the Thunder built their lead, there was little belief that they’d forfeit that lead to a Minnesota team that looked defeated and missing their star, D’Angelo Russell, who hit the game-winner the previous night.
The Timbs had a different view on their 23-point halftime lead. During OKC’s barrage of excellence in the first half, Naz Reid flew under the radar. In his limited attempts, the Thunder had no answer for him. He was 4-of-5 in the first half for eight points. Remember: the Thunder lacked much of a defensive presence in the paint with a dainty Mike Muscala as their center.
The Timbs recognized the mismatch, and that’s what they hung their hat on in the second quarter, which fueled their comeback. Reid scored 21 points in the second half on 9-of-16 shooting, which drew OKC’s attention and opened up better shots for Minnesota.
Towards the end of the third quarter, OKC caught themselves playing a completely different brand of basketball. In fact, they swapped styles of play with the Timberwolves, who were playing up-paced and gritty to match what the Thunder were doing in the first half.
The Timbs took a 101-98 lead with 9:07 left in the game. That’s when SGA stepped up and exploited yet another mismatch in Minessota’s defense. Just like most other NBA teams, the Timbs didn’t have an answer for downhill Shai down the stretch, and he iced the game for the Thunder with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting through the final eight minutes.
Gilgeous-Alexander notched his fourth 30-point game of the season with 31 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Mike Muscala scored 22 points in the first half, two-points shy of his career-high, and didn’t hit another shot before taking an elbow to the face and not returning. Hamidou Diallo was third in Thunder, scoring 15 points off the bench and six rebounds. Kenrich Williams nearly notched a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Luguentz Dort (10), Théo Maledon (10) rounded out the Thunder players in double-figures.
The Thunder have improved to (10-12) on the season with another Western Conference road trip on the horizon, starting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday and Wednesday.