(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Chesapeake Energy Arena used to be like Superman’s fortress of solitude. It was nearly impregnable to opposing teams when they took on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, that has not been the case of late. With Oklahoma City’s 119-117 loss to Minnesota Wednesday, the team has lost back to back games at home and are 13-6 at the Peake this season.
However, the defeat became secondary to a series of plays in the second half and one post-game sound bite. Both were instigated by the Timberwolves Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins finished with a game-high 40 points on 11 of 24 shooting. He was also 16 of 18 from the charity stripe to go along with 10 rebounds and four assists.
But it was a play he made in the third quarter that seemed to spark the Timberwolves and infuriate some of the Thunder.
In the middle of the third, Wiggins went strong to the basket for a dunk, but reserve Oklahoma City center Nerlens Noel tried to block the dunk attempt. In midair, Wiggins’ forearm hit Noel in the face which caused him to crumple to the ground. His head then banged on the floor and he seemed to have been knocked out briefly.
The Thunder quickly called for medical attention and Noel was taken off the court on a stretcher.
“I just tried to make an aggressive move and dunk,” Wiggins said. “He tried to contest it. I think he fell wrong. I didn’t really see it until I saw him on the ground. Hopefully, he’s good. I hope nothing but the best for him. I hope he gets healthy soon and comes back stronger.”
Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder was seemingly upset with the reactions of the Timberwolves during the medical timeout as Noel was being attended to and yelled: “What are you laughing at?”
When play resumed, he and Minnesota’s Jeff Teague got into a pushing match. Teague was ejected with a double technical. A technical was called on Schroder, who has a history of beef with Teague that stretches back to their days in Atlanta.
Schroder left the arena without talking to the media and guard Russell Westbrook said very little on about anything that took place in the game in his very brief media session.
However, when Wiggins was asked about the incident after the game, his words caused a bit of controversy on social media.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with him. Uh, he was just gay. He was acting crazy for no reason,” Wiggins said. “I look right through him. He’s not someone I look at as a problem. Not at all.”
However, Wiggins came out later on his own Twitter account and said that was not what he said.
“Id like to clarify what I said tonight during my postgame media session,” Wiggins posted. “I said: “I don’t know what’s wrong with him he was just getting… acting crazy for no reason”.
Wiggins went onto to say, “I have the utmost love and respect for the LGBTQIA community and I would never use any term to disrespect them in anyway.”
According to Billy Donovan, Noel was taken to the OU Medical Center, but he had no update on his condition.
However, Donovan was able to pinpoint why the Thunder struggled against the Timberwolves.
“I thought we did some really good things offensively tonight,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we moved the ball, I thought we generated some good looks, and I think a lot of the shooting percentages, both from the field, and from the three-point line were byproducts of some good ball movement. I thought the difference in the game was we put them to the free throw line too many times and I think we got hurt on the offensive glass, our defensive glass. They made a couple timely threes on some offensive rebounds and some kickouts, but other than that I thought the difference was their rebounding and us fouling.”
It was those issues that cost the Thunder late when they were unable to get any key stops or keep the Timberwolves off the line. That was especially true of Andrew Wiggins who made a living at the free throw line the entire night.
“Yeah. Coach put the ball in my hands in the end,” Wiggins said, “and I just did the best I could to get everyone involved and try to make the plays we needed to win.”
After Minnesota took a two-point lead, the Thunder had the ball with 16 seconds left. After a timeout, they got the ball to Westbrook, who dribbled into the paint then floated out to the left corner where he hoisted up a 3-point attempt with center Karl-Anthony Towns defending him. The shot was off the mark, but Steven Adams got the rebound and threw it back out to Westbrook, who attempted another difficult 3-pointer. It also missed its target as time expired.
“We got a switch with Russell on Towns. He got a pretty clean look off,” Donovan said. “I thought Steven did a great job offensive rebounding and was able to kick it back out to Russ. I think that the floor, when Russell drove on the initial action, got a little bit congested. We maybe could have been a little better with our spacing, but for the most part, we got our point guard on their center, which we felt was a pretty good matchup.”
According to Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders, who picked up his first win as a head coach, they knew exactly what play Oklahoma City was going to run in that situation.
“Our assistant coaches had the play down perfect,” Saunders said. “They have put a ton of time in to see what they were going to run. We just made extra efforts.”
Paul George led the Thunder in scoring with 27 points. However, he scored only three points in the fourth quarter.
Westbrook ended the night with 25 points and shot 11 of 22 from the field. However, he was 1 of 6 from behind the arc and racked up seven turnovers.
Adams posted 20 points and 12 rebounds while Terrance Ferguson chipped in with 14 points.
The Thunder (25-15) travel to San Antonio (24-17) Thursday for a matchup with the Spurs. Both teams will be back in Oklahoma City Saturday night for a rematch.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider