The Thunder looks to bounce back after falling to the Timberwolves on Friday in the final possession. The back-and-forth game featured 12 ties and 19 lead changes before Minnesota ultimately came out on top behind a deep 3-pointer from D’Angelo Russell to take the game.
OKC was without Lu Dort (left knee soreness), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (left knee sprain) and Théo Maledon (health and safety protocols) leaving eight active players to step into playmaking, ball handling roles.
Thunder guard Hamidou Diallo stepped up to the challenge and finished with 16 points and a career-high 10 assists – his first-ever point-assist double-double. Those 10 assists translated into 26 points for the Thunder and also marked the most points Diallo has generated through assists in his career. From the inside, it was 14-year veteran Al Horford facilitating from the paint as he finished with a game-high 26 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists.
All-in-all, the Thunder hung tough and got significant contributions from its versatile, interchangeable pieces such as Darius Bazley who finished the night with a 12-point, 10- rebound double-double. Isaiah Roby not only cashed in 11 points, but also logged three steals and swatted away three blocks.
“There was great output [on Friday]. Physically, that was a high effort game,” said Daigneault. “We played a 48-minute game, obviously we were a possession away but really pleased with the competitive spirit of the team.”
Minnesota’s offense, playing without Karl Anthony-Towns (health and safety protocols) stemmed from Malik Beasley who finished the night with 24 points while making six three pointers. Russell stepped up in the second half to bolster the Timberwolves shooting night as he cashed in five of his own. Off the bench, Minnesota’s Jake Layman and Jaylen Nowell both posted double figures to help their team maintain a steady flow of offense throughout the game. Nowell posted a career-high 14 points.
The Timberwolves, who sit at the bottom of the league in both field goal and 3-point percentage, shot an impressive 40.0 percent from the 3-point line and a solid 43.6 percent from the field. Minnesota also got a boost offensively by generating 18 points off of the Thunder’s 17 turnovers and converting 10 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. On Friday, look for the Thunder to work to shore up those controllable elements to the matchup.
OKC had a significant size advantage on Friday against the smaller Minnesota lineup. Against the small backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, Thunder forwards like Isaiah Roby and Darius Bazley both made plays matched up against them. OKC’s help-side defense will need to be sharp and ready to rotate against the high-powered backcourt who combined for 45 points on Friday.
“Roby, playing out there basically at the three, he was really good especially defensively,” said Daigneault. “He was on guards and he just kind of chased them, he got into coverages, things that are very unnatural for him. He just kind of figured out on the fly and that’s the benefit of games like this.”
Stat to Watch
Turnovers– Both the Thunder and the Timberwolves gave up 17 turnovers on Friday while recording 10 steals a piece. OKC benefitted the most by converting those turnovers into 25 points while Minnesota tallied 18.
It was second year forward Isaiah Roby who led the charge in the steals column as he snatched away three of his own followed by Kenrich Williams and Horford who each logged a pair. Look for a similar defensive effort for the Thunder on Saturday with all five players connected on a string in a disciplined shell.
Behind Coach Daigneault’s zero-zero mentality and learning-driven approach, the Thunder has a solid track record of responding in second meetings with opponents after dropping the first matchup. After it’s resilient win over Houston in the second game of the mini-series, the Thunder is 3-1 in such situations with the defense playing the biggest role in such bounce-back games.
On average, the Thunder has allowed just 101.0 points while holding opponents to just 26.3 percent from behind the arc. After allowing 16 made 3-pointers on 40.0-percent shooting on Friday, expect the Thunder to buckle down on contesting those looks.
“We’ve just got to continue to trust our help,” said Daigneault. “In those situations, it’s a vulnerable position when you’re closing out to a guy that can shoot and drive and sometimes you tend to come up short because you want to protect against getting beat but that’s why you have your help. We’ll look at them and we’ll learn from them just like we always do.”