The Timberwolves won again on Wednesday night, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-88 in a gritty performance at home following their signature blowout win over LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night.
The Wolves got off to a hot start in the first quarter. They broke out to a 12-2 lead early, mostly on the strength of Jimmy Butler, who set the tone in the 1st, putting up 4 points, grabbing 3 rebounds, handing off 2 assists, and thieving one steal. Meanwhile, Taj Gibson was 3-3 for 7 points in the quarter to go with 4 boards. Jeff Teague returned to the starting lineup after missing 7 games since injuring his knee on December 27. Coming out of the gates, Teague was rusty. He didn’t play well in the 1st and was replaced by Tyus Jones, who played well with the starting unit during Teague’s absence from the lineup.
Russell Westbrook hit the turbo button later in the 1st quarter. OKC stormed back to take the lead before Jamal Crawford’s buzzer-beater to tie the game at 23 going into the 2nd. (Eds. Note: Crawford’s buzzer-beaters are always fun, but this one was also an important momentum-dampener that seemed to slow the Thunder at the end of the quarter.)
In the 2nd, the Wolves played the Thunder to a draw, with each team putting up 24 points apiece for a 47–47 tie going into the half. By the end of the half, it was evident that pace-and-space offense wouldn’t rule the day: The Wolves only shot 2-13 (15.4%) on three-pointers in the first half; the Thunder made 3-10.
The Wolves pulled away after halftime, outscoring the Thunder 57-41 in the final two periods. Butler had 10/4/3 in the 3rd quarter and another 10 points and 2 steals in the 4th. Jimmy finished with 26 points, 7 rebounds, 8 dimes, 4 steals, and 2 blocked shots. He also got to the foul line and converted at a high rate, going 11-12 from the stripe.
As the impressive distribution of Butler’s statistics across non-scoring statistical categories suggests, this was a team win over a struggling but daunting OKC team that has a Big Three of their own. But tonight was Russ Westbrook’s night primarily. Russ put up a heroic line in the loss—38 pts, 10 rebounds, 5 assists—but the Thunder’s other stars faded into the background at times while Restbrook did his thing: Paul George had 13 points on 14 shots. Carmelo Anthony had 15 on 19 shots. Unlike previous meetings, on Wednesday Steven Adams (8 pts, 8 rebounds) didn’t desecrate the Wolves on the boards and around the cup.
Jon Krawczynski put it well:
KAT is owning Steven Adams
Wiggins has outplayed Paul George
Taj has locked up Melo.
So it's Russ (38 on 15-23) against the world.
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) January 11, 2018
Butler, Towns, and Wiggins: finally starting to gel?
Wedesnday’s win wasn’t only nice because it was against OKC. It was also satisfying because the Wolves so-called “Big Three”–Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins—all played well.
Jimmy was Jimmy. He did a little of everything. His “do-shit” statistic, developed by the fine folks over at Canis Hoopus over the years, was certainly high.
But we’ve come to expect Jimmy to carry the team every night. The same hasn’t been true of KAT or Wiggins, especially during the latter’s recent struggles.
Both Towns and Wiggins played well alongside Butler in Wednesday’s victory. Towns had 18 and 12, as well as three assists and two three-pointers. Wig led the team with 42 minutes, scored 19 points, and outplayed Paul George, the veteran star to whom he has often been compared.
All of the winning made KAT happy.
KAT is positively GIDDY pic.twitter.com/pf6hJMgwxi
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) January 11, 2018
After the game, KAT discussed the team’s affinity for Wiggins, suggesting the players trust him to help win games more than the scribes and analytics folks do.
What stuck out most about KAT’s comments tonight might’ve been the way he talked about Wiggins and how he’s underappreciated. pic.twitter.com/eIPQlZrCbC
— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) January 11, 2018
In a nutshell, tonight’s game was another illustration of the chemistry this team has finally developed. The Wolves have fiber.
Last 3 games has shown a team w/fiber. Pretty exciting and new for Wolves fans.
— brittrobson (@brittrobson) January 11, 2018
Muscle off the bench helps
Neither Gorgui Dieng nor Marcus Georges-Hunt has gotten much ink this season. Dieng, a veteran who re-signed with the team as a free agent after last season moved to the bench to make way for free agent acquisition Taj Gibson.
Georges-Hunt wasn’t a lock to make the team, but has established himself as a tough, reliable defender who can play a small role effectively as an excellent situational defender who can keep opposing teams’ big scorers honest in big moments. Needless to say, this should be useful given the Wolves proclivity to let opponents back into games in the second half after establishing a lead in the first two quarters.
Despite the utility that both Gorgui and Georges-Hunt have to offer, they’ve remained relatively obscure this season—even among bench players. When people talk about the Wolves bench, Jamal Crawford and Tyus Jones are often the first names that come to mind.
Both Dieng and Georges-Hunt were instrumental in Wednesday’s win over OKC. The Thunder, with Steven “Always Be Beasting” Adams in the middle and the ever-physical Russell Westbrook in the backcourt, are more likely than not to leave bruises on their opponents on any given night.
But tonight, for once, the Wolves—whose reputation for being soft continues to precede them despite Jimmy Butler’s emergence as both an extremely tough player and leader—matched a tough opponent’s physicality blow-for-blow and walked away the clear winner. Dieng and Georges-Hunt, fighting fire with fire, played an important part in it.
A few final thoughts:
- While Andrew Wiggins offense continues to improve after a semi-prolonged slump, KAT’s defense continues to improve. After a terrible start to the season, KAT made a big leap defensively in December and shows no indication of regression so far in 2018. Nothing dramatic has changed with KAT physically. The benefits he and the team are reaping have stemmed from his mental acuity, particularly the attention and effort he is putting into Thibs’ defensive schemes.
KAT looked forlorn at times during his rough patch early in the season. His body language suggested frustration, at least some of which was with Thibs. He has looked like a different, happier, person for the past month.
Jeff Teague scored 8 points and had 3 assists in 25 minutes. He will continue to shake the rust off. But can Thibs NOT play Ty Jones more minutes? No? Yes!?! Maybe?
The Wolves are back up to a 51-win pace. Should they continue, might Thibs take home the Coach of the Year trophy?
“If you build it, they will come.” Perhaps the ultimate sports cliché, that. Even when applied to winning teams instead of bitchin’ ballparks in Iowa. But Wednesday’s game was the fifth consecutive sellout crowd at Target Center. The last time the Timberwolves sold out five straight games was during the 2003-04 season. The Wolves seem to be breaking a lot of ground this season that has been unbroken since ‘03–04. #winning
The Wolves are back in action at home against the New York Knicks on Friday @ 7 . For those of you watching on League Pass, you’ll have to make the tough call between Jim Pete and Dave Benz on the Home broadcast and Walt “Clyde” Frazier on the Away broadcast. You literally can’t make a bad decision.
Until then, here’s some vintage Clyde Frazier footage to pregame to.
Icymi, here’s Clyde shopping for hats in Paris. This was his Super Bowl.
And, in case we could ever forget, here’s Peak Clyde back in the day.
Till next time.