MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Karl-Anthony Towns had 17 points and 16 rebounds, while D’Angelo Russell struggled with 3-of-12 shooting in their return to the lineup for the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 98-90 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
Anthony Edwards scored 22 points for Minnesota, which was finally in full force for the first time since Edwards and Taurean Prince entered the NBA’s health and safety records on Dec. 17. Hit hard by COVID-19, the Timberwolves had their favorite starting lineup together for the first time in 10 games.
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Towns had missed six games and Russell sat out five while on the records.
“Man, we played badly today,” Edwards said. “That was it. We played badly today. However, it’s all good. We came out with the victory. That’s all that matters.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 19 points in his return to Oklahoma City after missing a match in the records. Josh Giddey, who became the youngest player in league history with a triple-double in the Thunder’s last game, had 14 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
“We knew it would take a minute or two during the game to get the guys back to getting used to it,” Oklahoma City acting coach Mike Wilks said. “What I saw from (Gilgeous-Alexander) as well as the rest of the team was unity. They stayed together. They kept fighting. Even when we fell big in the first quarter, the shelf was positive.”
Minnesota’s starting lineup did not show rust early. It had to be late.
The Thunder recovered from a 21-point deficit to close within two midfielders in the fourth quarter. Gilgeous-Alexander got his comeback started as Oklahoma City went on a 20-8 run and Giddey knocked down two 3-pointers to reduce the lead to 79-77.
With an 85-83 advantage, Minnesota went on a 9-0 run with four points from reserve guard Jaylen Nowell and held on to winning the first of two equal meetings between the teams.
“I think it was one of those typical games where you start well and lose focus,” said Timberwolves coach Chris Finch. And when you lose focus, you lose intensity and purpose. And that’s what happened. “
The starting lineup had the Timberwolves out for a 16-4 lead on 6-of-8 shooting to open the game, including a pair of 3-pointers by Patrick Beverley. Minnesota led by as many as 20 in the first as Oklahoma City battled to its worst quarter of the season.
The Thunder scored 10 points this season, shot 3 of 16 and made 10 turnovers in the first.
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“It’s growth as far back as last year,” Edwards said. “Because last year we would get a lead and a team would come back and beat us every time. Every single time.
It was as if we had to find a way to close matches. We almost let this slip. But big fight from Jaylen Nowell, big fight from Pat, (Jarred Vanderbilt) came in, played big. Do you know what I’m saying? They certainly helped. ”
The Thunder welcomed Gilgeous-Alexander, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Darius Bazley and Tre Mann back from the health and safety protocols, but C Isaiah Roby was added to the protocols. Robinson-Earl, who missed four games, flew to face the team in Minnesota and was back in the starting lineup.
Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault missed his fifth game in a row while on the roster.
“I think guys were trying to find their rhythm a little bit,” Wilks said. “But overall, I thought they did a pretty good job considering the situation. The teammates were encouraging along with them.”
Thunder: Derrick Favors was out of the minutes after missing a match, but was held out Wednesday with sore lower back. Ugu Luguentz Dort missed his second match in a row with soreness in his left knee. … Oklahoma City used their 15th starting lineup in 37 games this season.
Timberwolves: The lineup of Towns, Edwards, Russell, Beverley and Vanderbilt is Minnesota’s most used starting lineup. The team has 9-2 in matches started by the quintet. Each of the five players missed time while on the scoresheet. … Wednesday was the seventh time the Wolves have held an opponent of 10 points or less in the first quarter.
The teams conclude a home-and-home series Friday in Oklahoma City.
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