George’s free throws rescue Thunder vs. Timberwolves
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder’s troublesome trend of letting leads disappear looked like it was going to show itself again.
The Minnesota Timberwolves cut a 21-point Thunder lead to one possession with less than a minute to play, but Paul George hit two free throws with 5.2 seconds to play as the Thunder (9-12) closed out a 111-107 win Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
George had 36 points and nine assists, and Oklahoma City center Steven Adams had 27, hitting all 11 of his field-goal attempts.
“His presence was felt,” Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook said of Adams. “He did a good job of just being in the paint all night long, using his size, his length. Did a great job.”
Andrew Wiggins’ 3-pointer with 9.8 seconds to go had Minnesota (13-10) as close as it had been since the first quarter, but unlike the Timberwolves’ last trip to Oklahoma City — when Wiggins banked in a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer — the Thunder put this one out of reach.
It looked like Westbrook was ready to take over in the final minutes.
He drove for a tough layup with 2:10 to go, putting the Thunder up 103-98. He answered a pair of Wiggins free throws with two of his own to put the lead back at five with just over a minute to go.
Adams, plagued by foul trouble in the second half, grabbed an offensive rebound of a Westbrook miss and put it in with 26.2 seconds to go.
“That one was a heartbreaker,” Minnesota forward Taj Gibson said. “I felt like we had a chance to grab that one. I felt like we played great defense late. Those are the ones we learn from.
“(Adams) just did all the little things, and it worked out for his team.”
With Wiggins and Jimmy Butler scoring quickly for Minnesota, the Thunder had to keep finding ways to maintain a small cushion.
“(We were) making adjustments on the fly,” Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony said. “Once they made their runs, we had to withstand what they was trying to do. We made our minor adjustments. When they made another run, we did the same thing. So I thought we did a great job of staying composed.”
Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points apiece for Minnesota, and Jimmy Butler had 22, but the Timberwolves couldn’t sustain runs long enough to take the lead.
The Thunder had 13 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Minnesota 42-26 overall.
“You can’t give a team like the Thunder two and three shots at a time,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There were times in the second half where I thought we defended okay, but then we gave them a second or third shot. You do that against great players like they have, you’re gonna pay for it, and we did.”
Oklahoma City held a 64-54 halftime lead behind 17 points from Adams and 15 from George. Butler led Minnesota with 11 at the half.
The Thunder survived the third quarter, which has been problematic for Oklahoma City this season, particularly when in the lead. Karl-Anthony Towns helped Minnesota cut into the advantage, but Oklahoma City remained in control, up 85-79 starting the fourth quarter.
“We did a good job of using our size and putting together a 48-minute game,” Westbrook said. “We were defending at a high level.
“I thought we did a good job of responding, whether it was with a good set, getting in the paint or making a good call out of timeouts.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City snapped a three-game losing streak and has won two of its last seven games, the other against Golden State. ... Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook finished one rebound shy of a triple-double, with 15 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. He was 0-of-8 from 3-point range and 6-of-21 from the field overall. ... Thunder G Andre Roberson and Timberwolves F Karl-Anthony Towns collided forehead-to-forehead just over three minutes into the game. Both players required stitches and returned later in the half. ... Minnesota G Jeff Teague had 11 points and 10 assists, playing 34:01 in his first game back after missing three straight with an Achilles’ tendon injury.