Both the Thunder and the Timberwolves began back-to-backs tonight. It’s Game 81, of little importance to either. But it was a home game for Minnesota, so Tom Thibodeau opted to bring out the usual hometown favorites. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan decided to rest Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, and, yes, Russell Westbrook. This sounded like a brilliant idea after the first quarter, with the Thunder up 33-16. But the momentum gradually shifted in the middle quarters, and a 5-0 run by the Wolves put Minnesota up 98-97 with 44 seconds left. A mere six-tenths of a second later, Norris Cole tied it up with one of two free throws. Karl-Anthony Towns somehow missed a layup; with 6.3 left, Victor Oladipo sent up a jumper to make it 100-98 Thunder, and Andrew Wiggins’ three-pointer at the horn went nowhere.
If nothing else, this experiment redeemed both Norris Cole (12 points) and Kyle Singler (11 points). Oladipo’s last shot gave him 20; Domas Sabonis rolled up 19. Perhaps what’s most important, though, was the idea that it can be done without the presence of the Great Zero God: Westbrook’s seeming invulnerability is not, after all, a given.
Towns outscored everyone else on the floor with a solid 26 points and 12 rebounds. Wiggins and fellow forward Gorgui Dieng picked up 18 and 19 respectively. And Ricky Rubio popped up a double-double of his own, with 14 points and 10 dimes. The Wolves, we may safely say, are not the doormats they were two years ago, but still: 50 losses, plus tomorrow night at Houston. It seems unlikely James Harden will get the night off.
Nuggets at Thunder tomorrow night. We may safely assume that Denver would like some measure of payback for Sunday. And they might get it, if the Thunder are allowed to sleepwalk through that game the way they did through half of this one. And with the Rockets coming up this weekend, well, the opportunity for distraction, or worse, will present itself whenever the Fates are so moved.