Game Grades: OKC Thunder battle back for tight win in Minnesota

The OKC Thunder never quit, and their ability to stay with it allowed the Thunder to earn a massive road win in Minnesota.
Jan 20, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2)
Jan 20, 2024; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) / Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

If the Oklahoma City Thunder were not already cemented as a threat in the West, they are now.

With a 102-97 road win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder again showed they can compete with any team. To get the win against the West’s first seed, the Thunder had to come back from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

The OKC Thunder take control down the stretch for an impressive road win.

The Thunder’s early 16-point advantage was a distant memory as they struggled to find a rhythm in the second half. But with the game slipping away, they still turned it around.

After the Timberwolves’ dominant third quarter led to an early double-digit lead in the fourth, the Thunder started to string together some stops. Those stops kept coming as the Timberwolves ended with just 14 points in the final frame.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander helped the Thunder eventually tie the game and take the lead in the closing minutes. After his stepback three to take a two-point lead, the Thunder never lost the lead again.

However, it did not look like that would be the case. Trailing by three in the final seconds, Anthony Edwards went up for a potential game-tying 3-pointer, and Lu Dort fouled him.

But after missing all three free throws, the Thunder hung on for one of their toughest victories this season.

Grading the OKC Thunder starters:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G, OKC Thunder: A

The Thunder have a knack for winning games like this. Well, actually, they have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Thunder’s superstar gave them their first lead of the fourth with a smooth stepback three with 1:14 left. It had been a rough night for the guard at 10-of-22, but it was not the first time this season that was irrelevant as time wound down.

But when it came to his bread and butter, he was his usual star self. With a 10-of-10 first half, Gilgeous-Alexander nailed 12 of his 13 free throw attempts in Minnesota. 

Add in six assists and that he was the clear best player on the floor, and the Thunder have to feel confident about their chances to overtake Minnesota for the No. 1 seed.

Josh Giddey, G, OKC Thunder: C-

It was a rough night for the starting guard against the league’s best defense.

But that did not stop Giddey from having one of the best highlights of the night. As the Thunder built an early lead, Giddey flung a pass behind his back the length of the floor to set up an easy bucket after a turnover.

That was not one of four assists, but he added eight rebounds and still made some important plays to help the Thunder win.

Still, with just five points and a 2-of-8 performance from the floor, Giddey will need to play better in future matchups against the league’s elite.

Lu Dort, F, OKC Thunder B+

Like everyone else, Dort had a poor shooting night. Yet, his 5-of-12 performance gave him 14 points, including some important fourth-quarter scores.

As usual, Dort was excellent defensively and drew offensive fouls on multiple occasions. But his best contribution was his defense against one of the league’s budding stars.

Anthony Edwards was harassed by Dort throughout the night and finished with only 19 points and 10 shot attempts. But the Thunder wing’s harassment went too far in the final seconds as he fouled Edwards on a potential game-tying 3-pointer. 

Luckily for Dort and Oklahoma City, Edwards missed all three to seal the game.

Jalen Williams, F, OKC Thunder: B+

Williams has taken a step forward as a scorer this season, yet it is so evident how he impacts the game when his shot is not falling.

Even his missed shots in a 6-of-18 outing were often causing problems for the Timberwolves’ defense by putting pressure on the rim. Those attacks helped him shoot a career-high 10 free throw attempts, including his final four makes to help put the game away.

He also finished with three steals, including a clean poke away against Naz Reid and one that set up a game-tying bucket late in the fourth.

Chet Holmgren, C, OKC Thunder: A-

Playing against Rudy Gobert can take its toll on a young center as it did Saturday. Holmgren hung tough and made big plays against the former Defensive Player of the Year.

Holmgren blocked two shots, both being dunk attempts by Gobert. The Minnesota big man finished the night just 1-of-6 from the floor but came down with 18 rebounds.

Combing for 29 with Karl-Anthony Towns, Gobert and the Timberwolves controlled the glass. Holmgren had just five rebounds, and that is a spot where he has to start putting up large numbers.

Grading the OKC Thunder’s best bench performer:

Jaylin Williams, C, OKC Thunder: A-

The Thunder scored only 15 bench points on Saturday, with three players scoring five. Williams was one of those three, and he made a more significant impact than just a few points.

While Jalen Williams has been one to give the Thunder a spark early in the fourth, Saturday saw an inspiring sequence from the Arkansas product. 

An emphatic block on Jordan McLaughlin’s layup eventually led to a jumper from Williams on the other end. That shot was the last one Williams would make, but it got the deficit below 10 points, and Minnesota never pushed it above that mark again.

Grading the best Timberwolves player:

Naz Reid, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: B+

The Thunder struggled to contain the Timberwolves’ starting backcourt on the glass, but the backup made an impact on the scoreboard.

With 18 points, Reid finished one point shy of being Minnesota’s leading scorer. But he made more shots than anyone else on the team, and that included four makes from beyond the arc.

Reid was a catalyst for the Timberwolves’ offense on multiple occasions. He helped them take their first lead with some easy buckets early in the second quarter and nailed back-to-back 3-pointers as they extended their lead in the third.

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