Here’s a fun note: The Oklahoma City Thunder, for the second time in as many nights, jumped out to an early eight-point lead in the first quarter only for it to have no bearing on the game’s outcome.
While Minnesota won the first quarter Friday, the Timberwolves sleepwalked through the first half Saturday until they roared back in the second half to throw the game into limbo.
As discussed here Friday, Minnesota is one of the worst professional outfits in the NBA, but I suppose the adage of Throw Out The Records When Division Opponents Faceoff rang true again Saturday.
The Thunder squandered a comfortable lead, but it battled back to slip by the Minnesota Timberwolves 120-118 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
First Takeaway: A Cataclysmic Collapse And Strong Recovery
Oklahoma City just completed its most fruitful offensive half of basketball all season, scoring 83 points and leading Minnesota by 21 points. The 83 points also happen to be the most first half points in Thunder franchise history.
The Oklahoma City Thunder radio network halftime show duo of Gideon Hamilton and Bobby Thompson were running out of adjectives to describe the Thunder’s offensive prowess.
Hamilton wanted more in the second half, suggesting that he’d like to see the Thunder finish the game with 160 points.
Why wouldn’t Hamilton feel overconfident? The Thunder welcomed several of its important weapons back to the court on Saturday night. Plus, the numbers were on the Thunder’s side to win Saturday’s game going away.
According to inpredictable.com, when the second half began, OKC’s win probability was at a cool 96.2 percent.
But Oklahoma City’s 21-point lead was reduced to two through three quarters. Minnesota finally took the lead in the fourth and built a six-point advantage thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Jake Layman. OKC’s win probability, per inpredictable.com, plummeted to 25.4 percent at this juncture of the game.
This is why an NBA game is 48 minutes and not 24.
Once again, in the game’s final moments, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander proved his worth as a big-time player.
His game-tying dunk and game-winning assist to Darius Bazley for a difficult reverse layup were just enough for Oklahoma City to avoid embarrassment for a second night in a row.
Second Takeaway: Closer To Full Strength
Oklahoma City was, indeed, closer to full strength, but it still went without point guard George Hill and Al Horford, who tends to rest the back end of a back-to-back.
SGA, Lu Dort and Theo Maledon all returned to the lineup and were among the Thunder’s seven players to score 10 or more points on Saturday.
In addition to his two big plays late, Gilgeous-Alexander rose to the occasion all evening long by scoring 31 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out seven assists.
The 19-year-old Maledon continues to grow up before our eyes as a dependable outside shooter (2-for-4 on 3-pointers) and outstanding ballhandler with a season and career-high six dimes.
Maybe it’s too soon to make this call, but would it be such a bad thing if Maledon remained as the team’s starting point guard, even when George Hill is healthy again?
Maledon and Gilgeous-Alexander have started in five games together since the Thunder's Jan. 26 game at Portland. The Thunder has tallied 25 assists as a team or more in two of those five games.
Those two 25+ assists games, including Saturday, have occurred over the last 11 days. Both were Thunder victories.
No offense to Hill. He’s a player who still has a lot of game and experience to offer, but this Thunder offense has not looked better than it has with the young guns running things in the backcourt.
Just something to think about, is all.
Third Takeaway: Battered In The Middle
Darius Bazley (back injury) was close to being a late scratch himself Saturday. It would have been a consequential scratch for the Thunder.
Backup center Isaiah Roby was unavailable and seen in a walking boot on the Thunder sideline, which meant the skinny Bazley would have to pose somewhat of a challenge to the 6-foot-9, 264-pound force named Naz Reid.
Bazley and OKC struggled to keep Reid out of the paint in the second half. After the new-de facto backup center Mike Muscala was lost after catching an elbow to the face, the Thunder was even more desperate to hold down Reid.
He was unstoppable down low, making seven of his first nine second-half shot attempts in the painted area, but Reid could not connect on what would have been his biggest bucket of the game.
Down two points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander doing his darndest to guard him, Reid’s pump fake casted SGA aside and allowed for him to try a running jump hook with seconds on the clock, a la Magic Johnson during the 1987 NBA Finals.
Unlike Magic, Reid’s jump hook did not fall. His season-best 29-point performance was all for naught.
The Thunder survived and advance to face the Los Angeles Lakers for two games out in L.A.
Never mind that, though! Oklahoma City won tonight and that’s all that matters. For now.