Thunder takeaways: Minnesota defense takes command as OKC falls on the road

Thunder takeaways: Minnesota defense takes command as OKC falls on the road

Minnesota’s zone befuddled OKC, Josh Giddey was booed on every touch and the second half slipped away from the Thunder in a loss to the Timberwolves.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Nov 29, 2023, 6:37am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Nov 29, 2023, 6:37am CST

OKLAHOMA CITY — There were times on Tuesday when it looked easy for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Thunder guard would blow by the Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert or bully Karl-Anthony Towns or post up, turn and lace a jump shot over his cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

But then there was the second half. 

Takeaways from watching the broadcast of the Thunder’s 106-103 loss to Minnesota at the Target Center:

Minnesota’s no-fly zone 

Mark Daigneault could take some solace in forcing Minnesota’s hand. 

The Thunder coach watched his team score 61 first-half points on 53.7% shooting against the NBA’s most efficient defense. The Wolves couldn’t find an answer for Gilgeous-Alexander, who by halftime had 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. 

So Minnesota (13-4) had to try something radically different. 

“They’re the best half-court defense in the league and they had to resort to zone,” Daigneault told reporters in Minneapolis. “I thought our offense stress-tested them a little bit in a good way. But teams are gonna adjust; teams are gonna throw different things at you when things are working. And to their credit, they went zone.”

And the Thunder (11-6) struggled to find answers. 

OKC scored 42 second-half points and shot 30.6% from the floor in the final 24 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander had 12 second-half points on 5-of-12 shooting. The rest of his teammates were a combined 10 for 37 from the floor after halftime. 

It wasn’t just the Minnesota zone that presented problems. Even the Wolves’ man-to-man was a different animal in the second half. 

And defense carried the day after Minnesota star Anthony Edwards left with 2:40 to play in the third quarter following a hard fall on his hip. Edwards didn’t return, but the T’Wolves got some unlikely offense and some reliably relentless D. 

Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren finished the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but he shot 6 for 20 from the floor, many of the misses the result of lockdown defense by Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert, like on this possession:

Daigneault called it a “good experience that (Holmgren) can calibrate for the next time we play this team.”

The Thunder’s own defense gave it a chance to win. OKC held Karl-Anthony Towns to 13 points and 2-for-8 shooting. Edwards had 21 before he left the game with the injury, but while he started to find a rhythm in the third quarter, he was 7 for 16 from the floor. 

Ultimately, though, the Thunder couldn’t overcome scoring 17 third-quarter points and looking befuddled against the Minnesota zone. 

“I thought it was a mixture of, we could have attacked it a little better (and) we also missed some shots during that stretch,” Daigneault said. “And the combination of those two things made it hard on us.”

Giddey draws boos

Josh Giddey finished Tuesday night with 10 points, six rebounds and an assist, but his game will be most memorable for the reaction from Timberwolves fans, who booed loudly every time he touched the ball. 

Giddey has been in the news since last week, when an anonymous post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, alleged that he had an improper relationship with a minor. The NBA confirmed last week it is looking into the allegations. 

Hours before Tuesday’s game, TMZ.com reported that police in Newport Beach, Calif., are “opening an inquiry” into the allegations against the 21-year-old Giddey. The alleged minor who appears in the post is based in California, the site reported. 

According to the TMZ report, which cites law enforcement sources, the police are investigating “to see if there is any validity to the claims and if any laws were broken.”

Daigneault was asked about the report before the game about the TMZ report and told a reporter, “I’m just not gonna comment about anything as it relates to Josh off the court.” 

Player of the game: Troy Brown

When Edwards left the game, it was reasonable to wonder if the Wolves — even with an elite defense and the best record in the Western Conference — had enough offensive firepower to keep the Thunder at bay on an off night for Towns. 

Enter Brown. 

The 6-foot-6 wing, who entered the game scoring 3.1 points per game, had 17 Tuesday on 5 of 6 shooting, including 4 of 4 from 3-point range. He scored 12 in the fourth quarter, when nobody else on either scored more than the eight points Aaron Wiggins pitched in for OKC. 

Number to know

Over the past two games — losses to the 76ers and Timberwolves — the Thunder is scoring 79.2 points per 100 possessions in third quarters. 

That’s 34.8 points per 100 possessions lower than OKC’s third-quarter offensive rating for the season. For context, the Spurs have the lowest third-quarter offensive rating this season at 97.7 points per 100 possessions. 

After the Minnesota game, Daigneault told reporters “every game’s different” and didn’t draw any parallel between the two fourth quarters. Against the Wolves, he said, the Thunder defensive focus slipped coming out of halftime. And offensively, he said, “I thought even before they zoned us, our attacks weren’t nearly as sharp.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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