Let’s be clear. The Oklahoma City Thunder has played two games and is 0-2. The first was against the Minnesota Timberwolves, where they lost 115-109 Wednesday night, and a loss to the Denver Nuggets 122-117.
Before the season for all three teams began, the Pioneer Press predicted the Nuggets finish fourth, the Wolves finish seventh, and the Thunder finish last. Record-wise accurate, but all three groups are in a division bound to be competitive. With that, let’s begin with the first game.
Wednesday night Oklahoma City Thunder, who had the second pick and selected Chet Holmgren (a native of Minnesota who was out due to an injury), the forecast at the Target Center was foggy and cloudy at times. For 47 minutes, the Thunder swished threes, created turnovers, and stormed the court with puddles everywhere.
I was present at the Target Center, and as a Minnesota sports fan, it was a roller coaster. The Timberwolves almost blew it, but Rudy saved the day, as was the mission the second he held that jersey at his first press conference. Fans chanted “RUDY” as he dunked, rebounded, and had a buzzer-beater in the third quarter to bring the crowd to life.
Before Gobert rejuvenated his team and fans, the Thunder battled back from a massive deficit as they were on a 27-9. The fans had flashbacks of Game 3 last year against the Grizzlies, who clawed their way back to a victory as the Wolves howled at the moon and searched for an answer as they lost the series in six.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rudy Gobert is their answer this season. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, there’s arrives next year when Chet recovers. Except on Wednesday, the rebuild became reborn despite a loss. Players stepped up.
Shai-Gilgeous Alexander led the team with 32 points while having three steals and two blocks, and Josh Giddey recorded a double-double putting up 14 points and 11 assists. Tre Mann added 12 points and drilled two three-pointers. All three compensated for the absence of Chet Holmgren.
There were plenty of surprises when looking at the stat line. The Oklahoma City Thunder outrebounded the Minnesota Timberwolves 57-55. Rudy, KAT, and Naz worked on rim protection and rebounds during the offseason. They did, but OKC arrived and aimed to spoil the night in any way they could. The Thunder shot 31% from beyond the arc with 14 threes compared to 26% and ten from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Individual stat lines weren’t pretty for OKC on three-point attempts and make. That didn’t matter because the emphasis for the Wolves was executing three-pointers in the offseason, but the Thunder hit back harder.
The OKC Thunder also recorded six blocks, compared to Minnesota’s five. Both teams were identical at the free throw line, 81.1%.
This game wasn’t supposed to be this way. Instead, analysts expected Oklahoma City to get demolished by Minnesota, and fans at the Target Center expected a blowout but experienced burnout before sighing in relief.
Fans of OKC were curious to see how the #2 draft lottery team would fare without their #2 pick. Well, for one night, they saw a team with the potential to become the #2 seed. The Minnesota Timberwolves were dealing with ring rust as they experimented in front of a diehard fanbase Wednesday, and the Oklahoma City Thunder almost made them pay.
This brings us to game 2. Saturday night, the Denver Nuggets almost had their home opener spoiled too. The Nuggets who have superstars Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. are a bonafide championship contender. This wasn’t a team struggling to find their identity like the Wolves, they were ready to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.
However, on Saturday night, the Thunder took the Nuggets a mile higher and almost stole one on the road. OKC had 50 points in the paint, 10 steals and shot 78% from the free throw line. Once again, the same three players shined. Shai-Gilgeous Alexander scored 28 points and assisted on seven possessions, while Josh Giddey recorded another double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Tre Mann drilled two threes and had 13 points. Looking at the box score, neither team could fend off the other as both teams didn’t hold more than a three-point lead after each quarter.
With 17 seconds left in the game, Josh Giddey drew a foul to the rim to convert for an and-one bringing the Thunder within two. However, a three-pointer on the other end sealed the deal as the Nuggets found the gold for a win. Nikola Jokic recorded 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 13 assists to prove his worth as a max-contract player.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have no choice but to reach for the stars in the present as their future with Chet awaits. We are two games in, and records aren’t a testament yet.
Sunday night, will the OKC Thunder bring a victory at home or start the year 0-3?
Now it’s time to see how the Thunder face adversity or if they continue to experience a drought.