Oklahoma City rolled into Friday night with a bare minimum of eight active players on the roster, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (knee), Luguentz Dort (knee), and Theo Maledon (health and safety) being ruled out for Friday’s contest. Despite the rotational setbacks, Oklahoma City was able to make their date with Minnesota an all out slugfest, taking this game down to the final possession— but falling just shy of the victory falling 106-103. For the Thunder, their loss moved them back down to three games under .500, falling to 9-12 in the standings. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s victory snapped their two-game losing streak, and dislodged them from the worst record in the league, moving up to 6-16.
Oklahoma City kept the contest close, never allowing Minnesota to latch onto a double-digit lead at all during the game, and found themselves with multiple opportunities to take the lead late in the final period. D’Angelo Russell played the hero for the T-Wolves, banging home a top of the key triple with 2.6 to go to claim a 106-103 lead, but the Thunder still had time to tie things up. Al Horford received the basketball five feet inside the tape, prompting him to hit Hamidou Diallo outside for a 30-foot-shot at the right wing. Diallo baited his lone defender with a hesitation and got off a solid look in a meager amount of time— but the shot clashed with the front of the basket, resulting in Minnesota taking the victory.
Mark Daigneault and company had to show some creativity in producing Monday’s roster on Friday, ultimately settling with the core of Diallo-Williams-Roby-Bazley-Horford. This unique blend of size-and-skill on the roster created some early game sparks and gave Thunder fans a glimpse at the potential seeds being planted in some of the team’s bright spots.
Al Horford’s showed no signs of aging as he led the game in racking up 26 points on 10-of-19 shooting, playing a post-centric game that sprinkled in outside play good for three triples. The 34-year-old’s veteran presence drew in the trust of Oklahoma City’s seven other members as he not only took in the role of scoring, but also was given the role to create the offense, chipping in on 8 assists.
Hamidou Diallo ran with the point-guard role remaining himself in dropping 16 points on 13 attempts to the basket, but also amplifying his passing game, tallying his career-high of 10 assists on the night. Diallo’s imprint in the playmaking department can be drawn up to excellent reads in the high pick-and-roll— shown by his beautiful barrage of behind the back passes to screeners on the pop.
Isaiah Roby entered training camp as a dual-threat at the three and four positions, but the continuous need of frontcourt minutes has thrusted him into the five spot over spending time at small-forward. In given his first shot to play the three, the Nebraska product put no time to waste— collecting 11 points (5-10 FG) off of a barrage of pump-fakes inside, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists in 34 minutes. His play on the offensive side of the ball should garner murmurs, but his lockdown defense should be good for a whole choir of praise. Roby put up 3 blocks 3 steals at the three, while looking confident as ever defending at the three, and looked great in his short stints gatekeeping Minnesota’s guards.
Kenrich Williams lived up to his coined nickname of “Kenny Hustle” in Friday’s meeting. Kenny Hustle ran rampant on the defensive end to create havoc for the Timberwolves— as his two steals and constant application of pressure led the way for the Thunder to score 25 points off — good for the team’s second highest mark of the year. Offensively, Williams’ recognition of his three inch height advantage on Malik Beasley led to repetitive backdoor cuts and penetrations, along with a swift three to snag 9 points.
Mark Daigneault shared his praise postgame for the units drive and success in such a spontaneous situation like the one Friday, mentioning players being pushed into new roles through a “selection by committee” process. We will see if Oklahoma City will continue to roll out this process tomorrow as they look to cap off their baseball set vs. Minnesota on a high-note.