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Five Thoughts 10-27-17 (Wolves 119, Thunder 116)

The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped another tight one to the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-116 on Friday night. While the Thunder dropped to 2-3 on the season, they’re also 0-2 vs. Minnesota this season. They’ll meet two more times before the season is up.

1. It was as if the game from Sunday never ended. Like Wiggins banked in the three and they just moved cities and kept playing for four more quarters. Absolutely sucks to be on the losing end of both of those games, but those were two highly early season NBA games. Game #2 didn’t have quite the same polish at the end (in Game 1 both teams executed flawlessly down the stretch). The Thunder did not close the game well offensively. One thing worth noting though would be that needing to hit a shot with under 10 seconds to go in both games and RW doesn’t take either of them. As a matter of fact, he defers to Melo. Tonight, I actually thought it may have been a mistake. On Sunday, he was able to set up Melo for a VERY clean catch and shoot. Tonight, needing a three for the tie, the Minnesota D guarded the line a bit tighter. RW may have been better off taking one of his off the dribble three’s two or three steps behind the line– he hit those at a pretty high rate last year. Instead, he passed off to Melo who had to sort of grind his way to a semi-off balance shot. Not a terrible look, but not great. All in all, I appreciate what Russ has done on both occasions and I have a feeling that sort of trust will ultimately pay off for all parties.

2. Don’t worry, I don’t ACTUALLY do this (not often at least), but I feel like I’d have to go back and watch the tape to find out what issues they had defensively. 119 point is far too many. But just watching the game, I didn’t feel like the D was all that bad. As a matter of fact, I thought we locked Wiggins down and were pretty physical overall. The issues seem to be twofold: Offensive rebounds/loose balls kept going back to the Wolves and we put them on the line far too often (especially in the middle part of the game). Thunder may very well lead the league in steals this year. That’s a good thing. They are long, insanely athletic, and Russ (often to his detriment) isn’t afraid to take chances. So far this year, the defense seems uber aggressive, certainly not lazy. Perhaps it’s a little sloppy though and they are leaving opportunities available in the paint. Beyond this over-reaching there was also some bad luck in play. This was epitomized by a good defensive possession being rendered useless when Russ got the ball, headed back the other way, slipped, lost the ball, and it wound up as an easy lay-in for the Wolves.

3. I believe this was only the second time in team history four players scored 20+ points in a game. That is an incredible change from last year. This is a good start— what they need now is to start developing roles for the guys off the bench. RW, Melo, and Adams all looked completely settled to me. PG13 looks more unsure, but he played pretty well tonight and he is still finding ways to score. He will be fine. The others are flashing here and there, but right now the Thunder really can’t rely on any of them outside of Felton (who has been exactly what the doctor ordered as the backup PG). It’s almost like an open tryout right now. Donovan is mixing and matching and giving multiple guys a chance to earn it. Right now I’d say Grant is in the lead for solidifying consistent minutes. The others (and I’m including Andre because I believe his crunch time minutes could be in jeopardy) have the door open for them.

4. Shaky start for Patterson to say the least. He’s a vet and you’d like to think he will be a guy we can count on for solid and predictable production. But so far he has been a mess. Granted, he missed most of camp and all of the pre-season games due to injury, but yeesh he hasn’t done a darn thing yet. Tonight was the first time it really hurt them. I know a lot of people were excited about the possibility of the Thunder going really small at times with Patterson at center. Well, they tried that for awhile tonight and Towns ate them up during that stretch. On the other end of the floor, Patterson has been a mannequin– a mannequin that likes to launch three’s. I understand that is sort of his game, but I need a little more activity than that from a bench guy. And I think Huestis should heed that as well. I like his size and athleticism, but he doesn’t need to be shooting 4 three’s in limited minutes. Use that athleticism and make something happen inside.

5. Not as gut-wrenching as Sunday, but certainly disappointing to lose twice to the Wolves in a five day span in games that more or less mirrored each other. It should also be noted that Minnesota got absolutely blasted by the Pacers and Pistons in their two games between ours. After the Utah loss, I said they have a 30 day grace period before I start drawing any real conclusions or heap any real praise or levy any real critiques. So I’ll stick to that and say this game is most likely just part of a bigger process for the Thunder. We will see Minnesota two more times down the road and we will see what adjustments they make. In the meantime, they have absolutely zero excuse not to win in Chicago tomorrow night. The Bulls are terrible and will be very much in the running for the worst record in the league this year (that may very well be their goal). The 30 day grace period will be lifted if they lose to the Bulls. If they focus from the outset it is the type of game they could have in the bag by halftime and possibly earn the starters some extra rest.

Ed Kleese is a long-time Thunder season ticket holder and a smart Thunder fan. You can read all his work on his own personal blog

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