After blowing a big lead against the Lakers in their Play-In opener, the Minnesota Timberwolves came back home needing to beat the frisky Oklahoma City Thunder to punch their ticket to back-to-back playoff appearances — something the franchise hasn’t done in 20 years.
Early on, it became apparent that the size differential in the frontcourt was going to be a problem for the Thunder against Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, who was returning fresh off of a one-game suspension for punching teammate Kyle Anderson during a timeout. For the second straight game, Towns led the charge for Minnesota, but unlike in L.A., he avoided foul trouble and was able to keep the pedal down through the second half to lead the Wolves to a dominant 120-95 victory.
The All-Star big man finished the game with 28 points (11-of-16 shooting), 11 rebounds, and three assists, as the undersized Thunder simply had no answers for him when he attacked the basket.
Early on the Thunder were able to keep pace, as Jalen Williams and Luguentz Dort knocked down four threes apiece, but the size differential just was too much to overcome. They did make a run late in the third quarter to trim the Minnesota lead to 10, which led to a very nervous, hushed reaction from the Timberwolves crowd that was a bit worried they might be witnessing another collapse.
Anthony Edwards, who bounced back from a dismal game in L.A., stemmed the tide with a pair of big buckets in succession, easing the tension in the building and ultimately proving to end the Thunder’s run. He finished the night with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, reasserting himself in a big way.
Gobert likewise had a big night in his return, with 21 points and 10 rebounds, including the most shocking play of the night in which he scooped a loose ball, dribbled behind his back, and finished at the rim.
The exclamation point of the game fittingly came from the two big men, as Towns fed Gobert on an alley-oop in transition to punctuate a dominant performance.
After a thriller on Wednesday against New Orleans in which they constantly found an answer for every Pelicans run, the Thunder just didn’t have it in them against the Wolves. Their lack of size in the middle was painfully evident against Towns and Gobert, who Timberwolves fans have to be thrilled to see actually punish a size mismatch consistently and thoroughly for a full game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 22 points, but the Wolves made life hard on him all night, as he was just 5-of-19 from the field. His toughness was on display though, as he returned to the game after taking an inadvertent elbow from Gobert that left him with a nasty shiner on his right eye.
Williams and Dort chipped in 17 points, but OKC just didn’t have the offensive firepower in this one. Minnesota got a balanced attack, led by their three stars but with assistance from Mike Conley (14 points), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (12 points and terrific defense on his cousin, SGA), and Kyle Anderson (11 points off the bench).
The Thunder move into an offseason with far better vibes than any of the other teams that have exited the Play-In alongside them, as their appearance was a surprise and with Chet Holmgren entering the fold next year along with more young talent via their many draft picks — and the possibility that this is the summer some of those get cashed in for veteran help in trades — there is real optimism about the immediate future in Oklahoma City.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, avoid disaster and get a much needed good vibes win to build momentum into the playoffs, where they will travel to Denver on Sunday to face Nikola Jokic and company in a very difficult series. Still, they have the talent to make things interesting against Denver provided they can put it all together on a nightly basis. That’s far from a guarantee given how their season has gone, but they’ll have a puncher’s chance and will ride a wave of positivity after a dominant win over OKC.