Despite being viewed by many as perhaps the least interesting of the NBA’s Christmas day matchups, this game proved to be interesting as far as showing the world who the young Timberwolves are and proving Russell Westbrook‘s excellence.
Despite being a night filled with young guns rising to the basket for dunks and alley oops, there was practically no offense from beyond the arc from either the Thunder or the Timberwolves. Both teams shot in at a pretty mediocre 33.3% which is below both teams’ average percentage from that range.
But at the end of the day, it was the Thunder who prevailed on the back of none other than Russell Westbrook. As the rest of the OKC was doing their fair share of scoring, Westbrook was dishing out alley oops and clean passes to his teammates all night as he racked up a total of 15 assists. Simply one of the best Christmas day passing performances of all time.
Despite Westbrook tallying up assist after assist in the first half, his scoring was not quite as well in the opening 20 minutes of play. With the shot clock winding down on numerous circumstances of a failed play, Westbrook was forced to take a lot of bad shots.
It wasn’t until the final 3:14 that Westbrook went from having a mere 6 points with a lousy field goal percentage to 17 points. All while being able to run the offense that he wanted to run, which granted, looked eerily similar to Kobe Bryant’s “Gimme the ball and get out of the way” gameplan.
Nonetheless, Westbrook was not without help from his teammates. The big men trio of Joffrey Lauvergne, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams all combined for 26 points in the first half and put their mark in the paint with emphasis.
On the other side, the Timberwolves’ young guns of LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns did not go down without a fight. Even in the face of the Thunder’s scoring trio of big men, Towns ran absolute roughshod on them in return as he scored 16 points and nabbed 7 rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Karl Anthony-Towns, not all was well in the first half.
No. No. No. Russell Westbrook? Yes.
— Spark ⚡️ Sports (@SparkSports) December 26, 2016
Alas, Karl Anthony-Towns had some help from Andrew Wiggins who looked efficient throughout the 1st half as he scored a sizable 11 points. Most of those points came from perhaps an unexpected source in Ricky Rubio. His passing was also on point managing to get 7 assists for himself.
However, the Timberwolves practically blew the game in the later parts of the 2nd quarter as the Thunder outscored them by 8 points in the 2nd quarter. Which were largely scored by Russell Westbrook during a run in those aforementioned 3:14.
There was not a whole lot left to see past the 1st half. Quite simply, the Thunder took the game and ran with it. Westbrook put on a show passing and scoring wise in the second half as he finished the night with 31 points and 15 assists. Not a triple double, but still an impressive night.
Surprisingly enough, the Thunder also found some help from an unlikely hero in Jerami Grant. In the second half, Grant found himself catching lob after lob from Westbrook’s passes and stealing rebound after rebound. He ended the night with an efficient 9 points and 4 rebounds.
On the other side of things, Zach LaVine finally came to play past halftime and began taking his fair share of shots all over the court. He ended the night scoring 16 points despite his slow start.
In the end though, Minnesota as a team didn’t have an answer for the Thunder’s overwhelming bench and the power of Westbrook and the game continued to slip away from them despite their best efforts.
The Final Word
With this loss, the hopes of Timberwolves’ fans has to be slipping as the team fell to 9-21 on the year, thus pitting them in 13th place in the Western Conference. However, there is still a shining light in Minnesota, and that is their young trio of Karl Anthony-Towns, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins
In this game, they lit up “Loud City” for a cumulative 65 points! Despite being in 13th place, the Timberwolves still have a chance to get the 8th seed considering that the Sacramento Kings are currently the one in that position. Safe to say, we know who the Kings are and the race for the 8th seed is far from over.
However, this game still indicates a huge problem for them in their bench. Aside from Shabazz Muhammad, the Timberwolves bench could only score 11 points. That poor bench play will not get the Timberwolves to be playing come the Playoffs. Tom Thibodeau has to light a fire in his guys or else their young trio will be left to fend for themselves.
As for the Thunder, this win now elevates them to a record of 19-11 which surpassed a lot of people’s expectations for them at this point in the year. They now find themselves with the 6th seed in the Western Conference, while still a fairly good chance to win either the 4th or 5th seed.
To reiterate, it all falls on the back of the triple double machine, Russell Westbrook. Sure, there can be a fair amount of criticism about his shot and how long he holds onto the ball but at the end of the day, it seems like getting out of his way is what is getting the Thunder their wins on a consistent basis.
With a talented front court and perhaps the emerging presence of Jerami Grant, the Thunder are set to do big things this once the Playoffs emerge.
Update: The stats listed in this article are accurate up to December 25