Neither snow nor gloom of night nor Tuesday night’s overtime in Manhattan stayed the Oklahoma City Thunder from their 126-123 victory over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night at Target Center.
Not that Zach LaVine and his teammates didn’t try.
One night after the Thunder escaped four snowbound days in New York City by working overtime against the Knicks, it beat the Wolves for the third time in 15 days by outlasting them in a fourth quarter when LaVine scored 15 of his 35 points but superstar Kevin Durant’s final nine mattered just a little more.
“I feel like we should be winning the way we’re playing,” said LaVine, who set a team record for most points in a game by a reserve player. “It gets kind of annoying, trying to appreciate a loss. You can’t do that. You’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Maybe you can’t do that, but Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell did so after his team recorded a season-high 31 assists on 50 baskets, committed just eight turnovers and played with a pace that pushed Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder to the final minute even though the Wolves missed 10 free throws Wednesday.
“Man, it’s just fun watching them play and develop and grow right before our eyes,” Mitchell told reporters afterward. “I know I’ve been saying it and you guys are tired of me saying it, but we see this in them every day … They’re starting to realize it’s a lot better to play at this pace than 84, 85 [point] games. You’ve got to be able to play those games also, but there are some nights you have to score. Tonight was one of those nights.”
In Monday’s loss at Cleveland, LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns became the first players under age 21 in NBA history to score 20 points each in the same game.
On Wednesday, Towns delivered a 19-point, 13-rebound double-double, Wiggins scored 20 right on the number and LaVine’s 35 was two shy of his career-high 37, reached at Golden State late last season.
None of it was enough to overcome Westbrook’s 24-point, 15-assist, eight-rebound night, backup center Enes Kanter’s 23-point, 10-rebound double-double or Durant’s dagger scoring that pushed back every Wolves rally in a game they once led by eight points.
“It’s just a luxury when you can get the ball to a guy 20 feet from the basket,” Mitchell said, “and he squares you up and just shoots over you, at 6-feet-11. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Showing that he’s learning to play both guard positions, LaVine attempted to match Durant shot for shot in a fourth quarter the Thunder won 35-29. He did and then some and the Wolves still lost for the fourth time in five games and the 25th time in 31 games since they started the season 8-8.
“I think you can see he’s playing fast, but he’s thinking slow,” Mitchell said. “Does that make sense? We want him to play with pace.
“Before he was playing with pace, but his mind was going just as fast. Now he’s playing with pace and his mind is slowing down and he’s letting things develop.”
Mitchell praised LaVine for playing with a pace that pushed his team but with a patience that allowed him to wait, read and use screens all night.
“I was thinking pretty fast, just making the right reads,” LaVine said. “It slows down when you’re on. Thank God for that.”