MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns had 28 points and 11 rebounds to lead Minnesota into the playoffs, as the Timberwolves muscled and hustled their way past the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-95 to finish the play-in tournament on Friday night.
Rudy Gobert had 21 points and 10 rebounds in his return from exile for swinging at teammate Kyle Anderson, and the Wolves filled out the NBA playoff bracket by seizing the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with a near-perfect performance at the end of another harder-than-it-had-to-be season.
Anthony Edwards had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves, who had a 58-30 advantage in points in the paint. They will face No. 1 seed Denver in a best-of-seven series starting on Sunday night.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 22 points, going 12 for 12 from the free throw line but just 5 for 19 from the field. Jalen Williams and Lu Dort each scored 17 points.
With their best defender Jaden McDaniels out with a broken hand — thanks to a wall he punched out of frustration in the final regular-season game shortly before Gobert took a swing at Anderson in an argument during a timeout — the Timberwolves put Nickiel Alexander-Walker in the starting lineup to guard the dynamic Gilgeous-Alexander. They’re cousins, actually.
Gilgeous-Alexander was slow to get going in the Thunder’s play-in tournament opener, too, before scoring 25 of his 32 points after halftime in the 113-108 win over New Orleans. This time, the NBA’s fourth-leading scorer picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and then had to leave for treatment a few minutes later after Gobert accidentally elbowed him in the eye as he rebounded and dunked his own miss.
Towns had 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting in Minnesota’s 108-102 overtime loss in Los Angeles in the first play-in game on Tuesday, but he camped out on the perimeter too much down the stretch as the Wolves offense grinded to a woeful finish.
This time, the Wolves took a much better blend of outside and inside shots with a constantly moving ball. They leaned hard on their advantage around the basket, with the big men Towns and Gobert going to work against the smaller Thunder.
Gobert moved around rather stiffly, listed as questionable with a back injury that might have kept him out against the Lakers anyway to make his team-imposed suspension moot. He wore a wrap around his midsection when he was on the bench, but he found his groove in the second half.
The Thunder came a long way from the loss of No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren, the 7-foot-1 Minneapolis native who broke his foot in an offseason pro-am game, but they let the Timberwolves pile up the highlights down the stretch.
The Wolves won three of four matchups with the Thunder, playing twice in the first five days of the season and twice more by Dec. 16. Towns was out with an injury then. The three-team trade that jettisoned D’Angelo Russell from the Minnesota backcourt and brought in Conley and Alexander-Walker was still two months from conception.
So was it even worth reviewing the film from those games?
“We do because we’re paranoid, and what else are you going to do? Like, watch Netflix?” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “But it’s different. They’re missing guys. We’re different. Both teams have evolved since then.”
Daigneault was announced by the NBA as one of three finalists for the Coach of the Year award. Gilgeous-Alexander (Most Improved Player) and Jalen Williams (Rookie of the Year) also landed on their respective lists. Scott Brooks (2010) is the only previous Coach of the Year winner the franchise has had since it moved to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Thunder: Josh Giddey went 2 for 13 from the floor.
Timberwolves: Edwards, who went 3 for 17 from the field against the Lakers, made 8 of 19 shots. ... Walker-Alexander had 12 points.