Player grades: SGA leads Thunder past Timberwolves in 102-97 win

Hoping for a prayer, Anthony Edwards tricked Lu Dort into fouling him on a deep 3-pointer. The All-Star had the improbable chance of forcing overtime in the final seconds.

Instead, the 85% free-throw shooter dramatically missed the first two attempts before failing to intentionally miss the third attempt in the hopes of gaining an extra possession.

The Oklahoma City Thunder scrapped out an impressive road win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 102-97. The matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference standings lived up to its billing.

“We just had great resilience tonight,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win. “It’s one thing to defend like that but it’s another when you’re shooting the ball so poorly. We had a really hard time cracking them, they played great defense in the second half…

“I thought our ability to defend despite an imperfect night showed great mental toughness by our team.”

The Thunder got off to a hot start, rattling off the first nine points less than two minutes into the contest. OKC eventually built a 21-5 advantage before the Timberwolves closed out the period on a strong note as the Thunder led, 30-24, following the first quarter.

By halftime, the Thunder’s lead dwindled to 57-54. Minnesota limited OKC to 17 points in the third frame to enter the fourth quarter with an 83-75 advantage.

Six minutes into the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves had successfully forced OKC’s offense to gunk out. The Thunder only scored five points in the opening six minutes, coming off the heels of a 17-point third frame.

“We were like in mud in the middle of the first half,” Daigneault said. “We started and finished the half pretty well. (The) third quarter was similar. They tightened things up on you and it got hard for us. They really force you into tough shots and they’re a great defense.”

After that, the Thunder finished the game on a 23-9 run in the final six minutes. OKC turned the tables and held Minnesota to 14 fourth-quarter points. Seldomly scoring, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over in the final stretch to lead OKC to the win.

Gilgeous-Alexander had 33 points, including 11 points in the fourth quarter. Throughout the final five minutes, the All-NBA guard hit several timely shots.

With under four minutes left, Gilgeous-Alexander scored four consecutive points to tie it up at 90 apiece with 3:20 left. He proceeded to hit another clutch jumper to tie it again with a little over two minutes left.

Trailing by a point, he hit a tough stepback 3-pointer for the go-ahead bucket with 1:14 left. From that point forward, the Thunder never relinquished the lead. Edwards’ three missed free throws essentially sealed the result.

“We need a bucket,” Dort on Gilgeous-Alexander’s mindset on his stepback 3-pointer. “We need a score. I think that’s it. He’s been in this position so many times now. I’m not surprised when he takes those types of shots… We all have trust in him to take those types of shots for him and he knocked it down.”

Against the best defensive-rated team, the Thunder shot 40% from the field and went 8-of-24 (33.3%) from 3. After a hot start, Minnesota bogged down OKC’s offense and turned it into a low-scoring affair.

With shots not falling, the Thunder turned their focus to getting to the free-throw line, which they successfully did with a 30-of-35 night. Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 13 attempts.

The Thunder also weaponized the open court, forcing 21 turnovers on the turnover-prone Timberwolves. This led to 28 points for OKC.

Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot 41% from the field and went 14-of-37 (37.8%) from 3. Minnesota also were frequent visitors at the charity stripe, going 21-of-29. The Timberwolves also had a massive advantage on the boards, outrebounding OKC, 50-37.

Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Edwards was limited to 19 points, five rebounds and five assists. He shot 6-of-10 from the free-throw line. Rudy Gobert had seven points and 18 rebounds.

Jaden McDaniels contributed with 15 points and Naz Reid scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-8 from 3.

“I just thought we just showed great toughness tonight,” Daigneault said. “It was mind over matter… Great win for us.”

Chaotically, the Thunder concluded their four-game road trip on a high note. OKC handed Minnesota its second home loss of the season and climbed a game closer in the standings.

“We can really compete against anybody,” Dort said on OKC’s four-game road trip. “We went on the road and some tough places to play… It was all close games. We can compete against a lot of teams, so it gives us confidence.”

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Gilgeous-Alexander added another resume-strengthening moment to his MVP case.

Against the top seed and the best defensive squad, Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 33 points on 10-of-22 shooting, six assists, two rebounds and two steals.

As the Timberwolves muddied the Thunder’s offense, Gilgeous-Alexander went to the free-throw line at a frequent clip with a 12-of-13 night.

He led OKC to a strong start with 10 points in the first quarter. In a tight contest, Gilgeous-Alexander put on his cape and hit high-difficulty shots in the fourth quarter for 11 points in his seven minutes of action.

This included the go-ahead score on a stepback 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a lead they never lost the rest of the way. Time and time again, Gilgeous-Alexander stepped up and made difficult baskets when OKC needed points.

This was your standard MVP performance and Gilgeous-Alexander headlines one of OKC’s better wins of the season.

Jalen Williams: B-plus

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Considering it was the Timberwolves, Williams had a stellar performance.

In 36 minutes, Williams had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Like Gilgeous-Alexander, he also made it a knack to get to the free-throw line, going 8-of-10.

The fourth quarter has been designated Williams’ frame, and he left his mark on this close contest with seven points. This included knocking down four attempts in the final 15 seconds to seal the win.

The second-year wing helped ease some of the scoring load Gilgeous-Alexander is usually tasked with. On defense, he helped turn Towns into a mostly nonfactor.

Lu Dort: B

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of the final lapse on his foul on Edwards, Dort had a solid outing after a one-game absence dealing with an illness.

In 33 minutes, Dort had 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, five rebounds and two steals. He shot 3-of-7 from 3.

As OKC’s best defensive guard, Dort deserves high praise for the quiet nights both Edwards and Mike Conley endured. The duo combined for 22 points on 21 shots — including the latter scoring three points on 1-of-11 shooting.

The shooting foul at the end is a major mistake that could’ve had larger repercussions, but Edwards’ misses make it easier to amend the error.

“That was a bad play on my end,” Dort said on his foul. “Knowing he’s gonna shoot a tough 3-point to tie the game… I was trying to contest without touching him. I was just so intense, I was so in the game and I was trying to secure the win so bad.

“It was my mistake but he missed the free throws and we end up with the win, so that’s all I care about now.”

Chet Holmgren: B

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A day after his high school retired his jersey, Holmgren leaves his home state with an impressive win.

In 33 minutes, Holmgren had 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He shot 1-of-2 from 3 and went a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.

The seven-foot rookie continues to contribute to winning basketball. The Thunder’s impressive road win over the Timberwolves is the latest example of this.


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire