Player grades: Thunder stamps statement with 129-106 win over Timberwolves

OKLAHOMA CITY — Dribbling around, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander penetrated the paint and sent Rudy Gobert — one of the greatest defenders ever — flying on a pump fake for the easy underhanded layup.

It was that type of night for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 129-106 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The statement win saw OKC shoot 61% from the field against the best defensive-rated team in the league.

“I thought tonight we were able to kinda dictate the pace of the game,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on the win. “Our intensity, our activity defensively is what allowed us to do that and allowed us to play that way.”

Playing small and with speed, the Thunder forced the large Timberwolves to play an uncomfortable brand of basketball that led to their demise. Minnesota’s stout defense bled points as OKC scored with ease.

OKC scored a season-high 40 points following the first quarter. The Thunder entered halftime holding a 66-60 lead. A 36-point third quarter helped them enter the final frame with an 11-point lead and limited the Timberwolves to 15 points in the final frame.

The Thunder shot 61% from the field and went 18-of-39 (46.2%) from 3. OKC dished out a season-high 35 assists on its 49 made baskets. Against the Timberwolves’ top paint defense, OKC outscored them 58-44 in that area.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way with 34 points and nine assists. He was accompanied by three 20-point scorers — Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams and Lu Dort.

“Just the way we moved the ball,” Dort said on their offensive outing. “We know they’re a pretty good defensive team… Our main thing was just to move the ball and to find the best shot we could find and so we did.”

Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot 47% from the field and went 12-of-27 (44.4%) from 3. A busy night from the free-throw line kept Minnesota in it as it shot 26-of-32 in that area.

The Timberwolves turned it over 24 times, which led to 23 points off turnovers for OKC.

Minnesota was led by Anthony Edwards, who scored 25 points on 7-of-16 shooting and went 9-of-13 from the free-throw line.

The frontcourt duo of Karl-Anthony Towns — who was a game-time decision — and Gobert were held in check. Towns had 16 points and six rebounds; Gobert had 10 points and five rebounds.

It was an impressive defensive performance by OKC, who credited sound communication for limiting Minnesota to its lowest point total in over a month.

“I thought we had great intensity of that end after the first quarter,” Daigneault said on their defense. “I thought both teams were outscoring each other in the first period of the game. As the game wore on, we really tightened on that end of the floor.”

In a matchup between two of the top-three records in the Western Conference standings, the Thunder were thoroughly the better team and handed the first-placed Timberwolves a lopsided result.

This was a great way to kick off a home back-to-back and the beginning of a brutal stretch of busy basketball for the next month-plus.

Let’s look at Thunder player grades.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: A-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Facing an elite defensive front, Gilgeous-Alexander wasn’t deterred from playing his brand of basketball against the Timberwolves.

In 33 minutes, Gilgeous-Alexander had 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting, nine assists and six rebounds. He shot 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

An 11-point first quarter by Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone for the type of offensive success OKC enjoyed. He once again dominated the third quarter out of the break with 14 points to give OKC a double-digit lead entering the final frame.

Against Towns and Gobert, Gilgeous-Alexander shot 13-of-14 inside of the paint — doing it on a mix of drives and short jumpers with heavy traffic.

The 25-year-old led the charge with the Thunder’s excellent ball movement all night long with one of his better playmaking games of the season as he dished out nine assists.

Jalen Williams: A

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Hitting on back-to-back 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter, Williams capped off a hot night from outside by giving OKC a 17-point lead less than two minutes into the final frame.

In 26 minutes, Williams scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting and went 4-of-6 from 3. He also had three assists and two blocks.

The right-wing spot was Williams’ best friend tonight as all four of his makes from 3 were from that area of the perimeter. The personal 6-0 run in the final frame served as a backbreaker for the Timberwolves.

Chet Holmgren: B-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Matching up against one of the best frontcourts in the league, Holmgren held his own against Towns and Gobert.

In 29 minutes, Holmgren had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He shot 3-of-6 from 3.

On the other end, he helped limit the All-Star big duo to 26 combined points. Neither Towns nor Gobert had loud moments throughout the game.

The 21-year-old scored nine points in the third quarter to give OKC a double-digit lead entering the final frame. He scored an additional five points in the fourth quarter to finish off a strong second half.

Lu Dort: B-plus

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

With everybody hitting from outside, Dort joined in on the fun. He had 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting and went 5-of-6 from 3 in 33 minutes.

Matched up against Edwards, Dort didn’t let him go off against OKC as he scored 25 points with nine of them coming from the free-throw line.

Adjusting to a new role on offense compared to previous seasons, the fifth-year starter spoke about his new shot diet this season as he plays on the most talented group he’s been a part of since arriving at the Thunder.

“Always shooting the ball with confidence, shoot the ball to make it all the time,” Dort said. “… The way we move the ball — credit to my teammates — the way we move the ball like that, I’m gonna always find some good shots.”


Story originally appeared on Thunder Wire