MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 33 points on his return to action, and the Oklahoma City Thunder took advantage of Rudy Gobert’s early sacking to record a crisp 135-128 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
The teams were called to a total of eight technical fouls, five of them against Minnesota.
“The frustration boiled over,” said Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch. “It wasn’t the most mature performance from us.”
Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault, meanwhile, praised the team’s “balance”. Gilgeous-Alexander was the catalyst for this.
“He empowers the environment, he empowers the team, and you saw that tonight,” Daigneault said.
Gilgeous-Alexander, the NBA’s third-leading scorer with a 31-point average, sat out a game earlier this week with a hip bruise. But he had no trouble getting physical against Minnesota, making 10 of 17 shots and all 12 of his free throws.
“I felt good about playing basketball again,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
Josh Giddey had 21 points and 12 assists for his eighth double-double of the season. Lu Dort scored 18 points as seven Thunder players went into double figures.
D’Angelo Russell led the Timberwolves with 27 points. Anthony Edwards added 26 points – he has scored 20+ in nine of his last 10 games. Jaylen Nowell added 21 points.
Tensions flared in the second quarter when Gobert was ejected for bringing down Kenrich Williams. The two tangled on the floor after both fell when Williams made a 9:22 layup in the quarter.
As Williams tried to get up, Gobert lifted his right foot, causing the Thunder to stumble forward. Gobert was called for a flagrant 2 foul while Williams received a technical error.
“I trust they got it right,” Daigneault said of the officers’ decision.
Minus their center, the Timberwolves allowed the Thunder to shoot 51.6% from the field and score 66 points in the paint. The Timberwolves also had to do without Karl-Anthony Towns, who is out with a calf strain.
Finch lamented his team’s defensive intensity and his turnovers at the other end. Minnesota turned the ball over 23 times.
“Sometimes we might have rock-hard turnovers that we can do better,” said Timberwolves center Naz Reid, who played a season-best 30 minutes in Gobert’s absence and posted a career-best 18 rebounds. “Things like that cost us the game. We just have to make better progress.”
The Thunder orchestrated an 18-3 run to play 4-14 from a point down 125-113.
“At the end of the third quarter it seemed like the wheels were going to fall off and we stabilized and finished well the last minute and then the group that started the fourth quarter put up a nice little cushion for us,” said Daigneault .