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Thunder narrowly defeat Timberwolves 120-118, despite historic first half

The Oklahoma City Thunder strolled in Saturday with vengeance on their minds after falling inches shy from victory against the Timberwolves on Friday night. For the Thunder, they entered the night with much needed reinforcements with the highly anticipated returns of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort, after they missed time in the team’s last two contests. In the pairings return the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to topple the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-118.

With Darius Bazley manning the helm at the five with the absence of Al Horford (rest), Oklahoma City jumped out to an early 8-0 lead for the second straight game. The fireworks did not stop there as they outscored the T-Wolves paltry 24 points to the tune of 43 points— good for the franchises season-high for points in one quarter.

The bank remained open for the Thunder in the second period, showing no signs of give in the period— but the quarter also saw the emergence of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both teams made scoring the basketball appear as the most mundane of tasks, combining for 78 points collectively. The rate of efficiency at which shot piled in were nothing short of eye dropping— Oklahoma City shot 60% in the quarter (12/20 FG), while Minnesota sat right behind them at 59% (13/22).

Pristine offensive play from the Thunder netted them a franchise record for points in a half, as their 83 points apexed that of the previous record of 79—which dated all the way to 2015 when the starting unit comprised of Westbrook, Roberson, Durant, Ibaka, and Adams.

Minnesota was left a tough task in succumbing a 62-83 deficit with 21 minutes to go, but there was no signs of retreat from the wolf pack. Naz Reid, the Wolves’ 264-pound anchor, took the ball right at Darius Bazley early, collecting his team’s first 13 points in just over three minutes of run. This quick assault put the T-Wolves on a 19-3 run, that sent aftershock throughout the quarter. Minnesota put a stamp on the third cutting the lead as low as one point and being down just two come the fourth.

The Timberwolves tasted their first lead at the 9:48 mark in the final period, and two crucial three balls from Jake Layman turned the tides of this game, with Oklahoma City needing to overpower the Wolves six point lead with 8 to go.

Enter onto the scene— Shai Gilgeous-Alexander— SGA kept a low profile through the first three scoring 18 points off 6-of-14 shooting, but when the game got into crunch time, he rose to the occasion. The 22-year-old ran through the depths of the Twin Cities defense, posting 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting to cap the game, including the Thunder’s final bucket to put them up two with 80 seconds to go.

The game was left in the hands of center Naz Reid, being dealt the inbounds pass from Ricky Rubio with 5.2 to go, Reid took his time lumbering from the left baseline to 5-feet from the basket, pushing up a layup that came just a tad to strong off the back-iron— Oklahoma City surviving 120-118.

Remaining true in clutch-time is what helped the Thunder sneak away with the W. Naz Reid was an emphasis not just in the final play, but was the team’s source of offense all the second half scoring 21 of his 28 points in the third and fourth quarters, but consuming pressure on the big-man produced him to make a bad pass and miss his final two shots for the game.

Despite Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s late game heroics, he was not as celebratory as others may have been with the win, saying shortly after the game, “[The win] Didn’t feel as good as we wanted it to. Obviously, we went into halftime with a big lead. We didn’t keep our foot on the pedal, we let them back in it. At the end of the day, we did enough to get a win. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and get better for tomorrow.”

Looking past SGA’s sentiment (which was hands down, wise beyond his years), there was still a lot for the Thunder to rejoice about in this game. SGA dropped 31 points (12-22 FG), 9 boards, and 7 assists and was a main contributor in locking down Reid late game. Mike Muscala pumped what could be his best game of the year, recording 22 points (all in the first half) off of 7-of-12 shooting, making a serious breakthrough scoring his first 16 all in the paint, while taking a brutal elbow in the fourth to swing the possession arrow in the Thunder’s favor. Diallo, and Bazley chipped in 15 and 13, respectively while starters Dort, Maledon, and Williams all made way with 10 points. Williams in particular turned heads on Saturday not just putting in work on offense, but also provided scrappy play on the glass including six big ones in the final period.

Oklahoma City will have time to take SGA’s sentiment to heart in the coming days as they face off against one of the league’s top dogs in the Los Angeles Lakers Monday night.

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