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Observational nuggets from the Thunder's 132-126 against the Timberwolves

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

This blog on the Thunder’s 132-126 win against Minnesota is an homage to those before me.

*Game ball (tie): Russell Westbrook/Dennis Schroder. Both were instrumental in closing out the Timberwolves for the first time in four meetings this season. Schroder was incredible early in the fourth, scoring 10 of the Thunder’s points in a 12-0 run, and 12 consecutive Thunder points overall to separate from Minnesota. But when Minnesota made its 10-2 run after Steven Adams fouled out, Westbrook took over, scoring the final seven points for the Thunder.

*Take a look at where the Thunder ranks in the following categories. OKC is a below-average team at finishing within five feet of the rim (62 percent, 21st in the NBA), making mid-range shots (38.1, 26th), and making threes (34.6, 23rd). The Thunder is 29th (!?) in the NBA in field goal percentage in the paint that isn’t within five feet of the rim (36.8 percent). Now, look below at the damage done Sunday.

*Minnesota’s defense isn’t Golden State’s … or even Denver’s … or even Houston’sbut … The Thunder was excellent in the paint on Sunday, starting with Westbrook and Schroder. The Thunder shot 60.9 percent in the paint outside of five feet. Schroder and Westbrook weren’t just great at the rim (8-of-12), they made 5-of-9 shots in the paint outside of five feet from the rim.

*Even better for Schroder and Westbrook was their ability to exploit mismatches against bigs. It’s almost a prerequisite for guards in the league now to be able to get a big in isolation and score over him with a stepback or get around him and score at the rim. Westbrook and Schroder thrived at it Sunday.

Schroder got his hesitation drive game working beautifully when Minnesota decided to switch defensively with center Gorgui Dieng.


Westbrook showed a few encouraging touches. Using a drag screen from Adams in transition gets Westbrook running downhill at Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is athletic, but if he steps up, he’s getting blown by, so he makes the correct decision in dropping and conceding the mid-range.

Westbrook does well to take that space as far as he can before unleashing his bank shot in the paint.


And when Towns decided to step up, Westbrook recognized, didn’t settle for the jumper and finished past him for arguably the biggest bucket of the game.


*Westbrook and Schroder are finding their confidence on offense together. In the last two games, a combined 30 assists to eight turnovers for Westbrook, and Schroder is shooting 48 percent. In the last three games, the duo has a point differential 21.8 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition when together.

*However … The Golden States, Denvers and Houstons of the playoffs likely won’t bail out the Thunder the way Minnesota did in the final stages of the fourth quarter.

*If you’re Towns, you want Westbrook taking this mid-range shot. So, don’t foul him 12 feet from the basket. Same for Andrew Wiggins fouling Westbrook in a two-possession game with 23 seconds left. Just unsmart defense by Towns and Wiggins.



*You still have to make the free throws when you get there. The Thunder closed the game with 16 (!?) consecutive made free throws.

*The Thunder is now 16-2 this season when it shoots 80 percent or better from the free-throw line.

*Westbrook doesn’t miss free throws in tight games late. Take a look at this, per nba.com:

-Westbrook is shooting 65.7 percent from the free throw line this season. By quarter:

First: 59-of-93 (61.5 percent)
Second: 75-of-113 (66.4)
Third: 65-of-102 (63.7)
Fourth: 88-of-129 (68.2)

-So, Westbrook gets better in the fourth quarter, but it’s not dramatically better than his second quarter numbers. But when you filter it down to clutch stats, it gets pretty obvious what’s going on:

-In the final five minutes of a game when the score is within five points or fewer, Westbrook is 45-of-56 (80.4).

-Westbrook in the last three minutes, the score within five points or fewer: 39-of-48 (81.3).

-Westbrook in the last minute, the score within five points or fewer: 23-of-25 (91.3).

-When the game is on the line, Westbrook locks in. That’s good. But that lack of focus has left a lot of points on the board in the lead-up to those final minutes of tight games.

*The defense took a step back. ABC broadcast combo of Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson regularly (and rightfully) ripped the Thunder’s defense, saying OKC has to get better if it expects to compete in the playoffs. Even if you don’t count the long-injured Robert Covington, Minnesota was missing five rotation players on Sunday and still posted 54.1/43.5/82.8 field goal/3-point/free throw percentage splits. Some of the miscommunications and breakdowns the Thunder had Sunday afternoon were inexcusable for this stage of the season.

*No one bothers to rotate over here, but Paul George leaves his defense exposed here diving in for a steal.


*Steven Adams fouled out with 5:51 remaining on a dubious offensive foul call. The Thunder was outscored 21-17 from that point after it had held Minnesota to just eight points in the first 6:09 of the fourth quarter.

*The most interesting decision was Billy Donovan going with Markieff Morris over Nerlens Noel to close against Towns. It made sense from a physicality standpoint, with Morris being more stout than Noel (Morris actually defended Blake Griffin well in a pinch Friday for 2 ½ minutes when Adams was in foul trouble). Morris had a few good moments, but Towns cooked him for 13 points in about 5 ½ minutes.

*Some of it is just that Towns is really good. Some was poor communication. Morris switches onto Dario Saric here and doesn’t locate the ball when Jerami Grant is chasing Saric to the wing.


*Billy Donovan is in a tough spot. Bench players are bench players for a reason. Sometimes they are players who could be starting for other teams, but they also have exploitable deficiencies that can cancel out what they do well. Morris had an efficient game offensively and provides floor spacing as a small-ball five, but can be exposed defensively in extended minutes and can go into stretches of some pretty bad off-script mid-range jump shooting. The Thunder’s defense gets a boost with Noel’s ability to switch onto perimeter players while also providing rim protection, but he doesn’t space like Morris with his shooting, fouls too much and can overcommit defensively seeking blocks.

*So, Donovan can’t play Noel if he fouls three times in 12 minutes, and he can’t play Morris unless Morris and the Thunder is canceling out the points given up on defense with a bucket. The Morris problem has shades of what Donovan faced with Enes Kanter, who was more gifted than Morris offensively but teams targeted in pick-and-roll and worked to get switches against. Noel needs to watch his fouls, particularly away from the basket, but picked up some unfortunate ones trying to fight for rebounds against Towns and Wiggins on Sunday.

*In a perfect world, Patrick Patterson gives you a little of both. Spacing to the 3-point line and the ability to switch and guard multiple positions, but Donovan buried Patterson when the team acquired Morris. Patterson wasn’t playing well beforehand. Donovan has dusted him off in the last two games for brief minutes and he could be an option should Morris’ offense regress and Noel continues to foul at a high rate, but it just speaks to the conundrum the Thunder has at the backup five unless Donovan pulls Grant off the floor early come playoff time to play him as the small ball center and slides George to power forward (which should definitely be considered).

*The Thunder was a combined minus-12 in minutes played by Morris and Noel. A big 14 points by Morris canceled out Towns getting buckets on both of them.

*This is good offense by Westbrook. Attacking a hard closeout by Josh Okogie, then trusting Morris to finish as Saric rotates to contest.


*Westbrook is up to 136 career regular-season triple-doubles. The Thunder is 110-26 in those games. I think the correlation between the triple-double and wins is overblown, but what it shows is Westbrook has won a ton of games playing this way. It tends to get overlooked since only one team can win a title every year, but the Thunder is a competent franchise with a true star and unprecedented success after losing a franchise player (Kevin Durant).

*Westbrook is two triple-doubles shy of tying Magic Johnson for second all-time in triple-doubles. The Thunder has two games left. Don’t think Westbrook is unaware of this fact.

*Wiggins turns into Kobe Bryant against the Thunder. His start of the third quarter was absurd. Terrance Ferguson was all over him and it didn’t matter. It’s not even like Wiggins was taking good shots. He was just making tough, long-range, contested jump shots. So, good thing the Thunder and Timberwolves aren’t in a series, otherwise Wiggins would be on his way to a couple of game-winners and Jordan shrug moments.

*A confusing exchange between George and ABC’s Lisa Salters at the end of the game. Salters asked him a question about overcoming adversity, I believe, and George immediately reached for, “I’ve lost too much money.” Salters tried to ask him what he meant by that (I was initially confused, too. Did George lose a bet?) George said “Come on, Lisa. Google.” I was still really confused, so I started Googling and found nothing which would indicate George had lost a bunch of money.

*An assist from ABC’s play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, clarifying after the postgame interview that George was alluding to getting fined for comments about officiating. A few weeks ago, George said he was moving on from talking about officiating. Baby steps.

Next up: The Thunder plays its final home game of the regular season against Houston on Tuesday (TNT/FS Oklahoma, 8:30 p.m.)

Related Photos
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-97df558d416486ddb742560073b570ad.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5abbe2b3f977514bc2ed3b2161b73b23.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) puts up a shot over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dario Saric, of Croatia, (36) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma City won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) puts up a shot over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dario Saric, of Croatia, (36) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma City won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jerami Grant (9) puts up a shot over Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dario Saric, of Croatia, (36) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma City won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-249105cf0a257c243a98f62f0aa16759.jpg" alt="Photo - Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jared Terrell (3) looks to pass against the Oklahoma City Thunders' Paul George (13) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jared Terrell (3) looks to pass against the Oklahoma City Thunders' Paul George (13) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jared Terrell (3) looks to pass against the Oklahoma City Thunders' Paul George (13) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-70d561c3ee9d66b920ef69bf953ea131.jpg" alt="Photo - Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dunks during the first half of a NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Towns finished with a game-high 53 points as Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dunks during the first half of a NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Towns finished with a game-high 53 points as Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dunks during the first half of a NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Towns finished with a game-high 53 points as Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7727075699f069c1fdb20a6a188f780a.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Westbrook had a triple-double on the day as Oklahoma City won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Westbrook had a triple-double on the day as Oklahoma City won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Keita Bates-Diop (31) during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Westbrook had a triple-double on the day as Oklahoma City won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e503b9188afee3d6fa49f718c24bfd53.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) hugs Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) after an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) hugs Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) after an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) hugs Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) after an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. Oklahoma won 132-126. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-97df558d416486ddb742560073b570ad.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) drives around Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins during the second half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1c51a070bed70fcdc65d7e0f6ed8d4a8.jpg" alt="Photo - Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, of Senegal, (5) is fouled by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson (23) as he goes up for a shot during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, of Senegal, (5) is fouled by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson (23) as he goes up for a shot during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng, of Senegal, (5) is fouled by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Terrance Ferguson (23) as he goes up for a shot during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-123bdd0753aba1ebed56fdc29669deb0.jpg" alt="Photo - Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, of New Zealand, (12) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, of New Zealand, (12) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams, of New Zealand, (12) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c10e85bb2bb78835ae86321a4fef12a4.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jared Terrell (3) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)" title="Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jared Terrell (3) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jared Terrell (3) during the first half of a NBA basketball game Sunday, April 7, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)</figcaption></figure>
Erik Horne

Erik Horne is in his fourth season on the Thunder beat. Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013 following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The... Read more ›

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