OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City’s big Steven Adams proved himself perfect Friday, particularly when it mattered most, and his reeling Thunder team was just good enough to beat the Timberwolves for the first time in three meetings this season, 111-107 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Adams went 11-for-11 from the field and 5-for-5 from the free throw line and scored a career-high 27 points that included a crucial put-back after the ball slipped from Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns’ grasp with 26.2 seconds left.
Trailing by as many as 21 points in the second quarter, the Wolves pulled within three points three times and two once in the final 75 seconds, but Adams’ final points of the night made it a 107-102 deficit from which the Wolves didn’t recover.
This time, there was no miraculous finish, such as Andrew Wiggins’ desperation three-point heave at the buzzer that beat the Thunder by two in Oklahoma City six weeks earlier.
“We dug a hole and we didn’t rebound well enough to win,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We didn’t play our best.”
This time around, Adams did the work inside with four of his six rebounds coming on the offensive backboard while teammate Paul George stretched the Wolves’ defense to its breaking point with a 36-point night that included five threes. Until Friday, the Thunder had lost three consecutive games and five of its past six.
The Thunder outrebounded the Wolves 42-26, winning with its size when Adams wasn’t fighting foul trouble and then with quickness when Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan went to smaller lineups.
Either way, Towns perhaps couldn’t decide when he felt worse: Early on when he accidentally butted heads with the Thunder’s Andre Roberson and needed five stitches to close a gash in his right eyelid or at game’s end, when he couldn’t corral a rebound that Adams did.
Towns felt that one in his hands and then felt it — and the game — slip away.
“It’s going to haunt me for the rest of the day,” Towns said afterward. “I’m very upset at myself that I didn’t get that rebound. It was weird. It was in my hands, and it just slipped.”
He sustained the gash in the game’s opening 3½ minutes, after he made a driving layup past George, turned to head back down the court and collided head-on, eye-to-eye actually, with Roberson.
Both went to their locker rooms, where Towns was checked for a possible broken orbital bone and a concussion. He needed only the five stitches while Roberson took four down the hallway to close his cut.
“I guess I can take a win some way today,” Towns said, referring to his 5-4 stitch advantage.
The Wolves trailed 9-4 when Towns left the game. They were behind 50-33 when he returned 2½ minutes into the second quarter.
“There were a lot of moving parts during that,” Thibodeau said. “We were just scrambling, managing time, until he could come back and we lost a lot of ground.”
Eventually, they nearly gained all that ground back after Wolves star Jimmy Butler’s defense helped hold reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook to a mere 15-point, 14-assist, nine-rebound night. So Adams and George beat them.
“That’s part of being on the road, part of being in the NBA against a desperate team,” Taj Gibson said about the loss. “I think it was a good playoff atmosphere for us. I thought we handled it real well, the way we came back from a real deep hole. We just didn’t execute late.’’