Alternating quarters, OKC couldn't get in rhythm in loss to Wolves
By: Addam M. Francisco, Senior Writer
In the heart of a tough four day stretch for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they face a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has underachieved this season and currently sit second-to-last in the Western Conference, although their record doesn't reflect that.
Minnesota is a talented team that has dealt with some chemistry issues but on the Christmas Eve's eve, their chemistry was cohesive, defeating the Thunder 114-112 in a hard-fought game on both sides.
What seemed to be the ultimate problem for the Thunder was tired legs from dealing with a tough game in Utah the night before, as well as a quick turnaround which involved travel. All that to prepare for another game against a competitive team less than 24 hours later.
The first quarter vividly displayed that for OKC. "Sloppy play" was the mantra for the Thunder in the first quarter after turning the ball over six times while only forcing two from the Timberwolves. Then, after turning the ball over, the Thunder lacked defensively, allowing 35 points on 50 percent shooting in that opening quarter.
Things did improve in the second quarter. The Thunder started to chip away at a 10-point Timberwolves lead bit-by-bit and eventually took the lead after Paul George and Jerami Grant were the fuel to an 8-0 run to put OKC up 52-49 in the late stages of the half.
Other than those two getting things going, the Thunder got back to basics. Not turning the ball over and forcing more of them. The script flipped. Minnesota turned the ball over six times in the second quarter and the Thunder didn't commit one. That was the biggest factor in OKC's comeback. As result, OKC outscored Minnesota 38-18 in the quarter and led by 10 at the half.
Then the third quarter happened.
The Thunder alternated quarters. After outscoring the Timberwolves by 20 in the second, they were outscored 33-17 after halftime. Purely because they reverted back to what they did in the first. Halfway through the quarter, Minnesota started their run, chomping at OKC's lead steadily and were successful. By the three minute mark, they were on a 13-2 run and regained the lead once again over OKC.
Entering the fourth quarter down 86-80, it was Russell Westbrook that got things going. Vintage Westbrook almost saved the day once again. Something the NBA hasn't seen much this season is Russ being successful attacking the rim. Today that's exactly what he did.
Westbrook and George shot a combined 7-of-13 and took a 110-108 lead with just under a minute to play. After an acrobatic block by Jerami Grant on Karl Anthony-Towns, the ball took an unlucky jump to Dario Saric, who knocked down a three, pushing Minnesota back into the lead, 111-110. As mentioned earlier, Westbrook did a great job getting to the rim quick with 23 seconds remaining but Andrew Wiggins successfully connected on a shot near the rim, which essentially became the game-winning shot.
On the potential game-winning shot, Westbrook had a short lane, opted to pass the ball out to the perimeter to Alex Abrines and similar to a few games ago, Abrines couldn't knock down the game-winning three.
Westbrook finished with his ninth triple-double of the season and 113th of his career after scoring 23 points, collecting 11 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. Paul George continued his MVP-caliber season, scoring 31 points and 11 rebounds on the night.
OKC's road isn't getting any easier with a Christmas day matchup in Houston, TX to face the Rockets. The Thunder falls to (21-11) on the season and is one game out of first place in the Western Conference.
Feature Image: Zack Beeker/ OKC Thunder.