MINNEAPOLIS — Carmelo Anthony had an opportunity to get the Oklahoma City Thunder an extra possession.
They desperately needed one, down 11 during the final seconds of the third quarter, when he received a transition pass from Paul George. It gave him a couple of seconds to size up his defender, Minnesota Timberwolves wing Andrew Wiggins, from the corner before throwing up a hypothetical shot that could give OKC a two-for-one.
The Thunder and Wolves were tied after one quarter. They were tied after two, as well. But Minnesota had spurted to a 29-18 advantage in the third. Anthony had a chance to recapture something for a team which had lost its execution.
But instead, he held the ball for too long before taking a dribble toward the basket, stepping inside the 3-point line and chucking a 20-footer with plenty of time remaining on the shot clock — and not enough on the game clock for the Thunder to viably convert a two-for-one. He missed wide left.
It was a result he and most of the rest of the team turned into a habit during Wednesday’s 104-88 loss in Minneapolis.
“Sometimes, it’s going to happen,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It was one of those nights offensively where we probably didn’t shoot the ball particularly well.”
Donovan stated again and again after the game that it was just a case of missing shots.
“I thought they got good looks,” he said.
But it was another odd performance from OKC.
The Thunder had valid reasons for the loss. They were on the second night of a back-to-back. They were on the road. They were playing one of the four best teams in the Western Conference, one which has been particularly hot of late and was coming off blowout victories over the New Orleans Pelicans and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Thunder didn’t have to win this game. But they also continued a recent trend in dropping their third straight game to fall to 22-20 on the season.
The defense fell off during the second half. And the offense appeared off all game — for whatever the reason.
Anthony made just 5 of his 19 shots, scoring 15 points. George was absent for much of the evening.
In fact, go through each individual matchup, and Minnesota won it. Former Thunder power forward Taj Gibson held down Anthony. Wiggins dominated whatever shooting guard combination the Thunder threw out there. The Wolves’ best player, Jimmy Butler, outpaced George, going for 26 points, seven rebounds and eight assists compared to George’s 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting. Potential All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns took over with Steven Adams assigned to him.
Whatever the Thunder were trying on a night when the offense had tendencies to become “stagnant,” as George later described, didn’t seem to work. The Thunder struggled to 19 turnovers, which scattered around the team. George had four. So did Russell Westbrook. Adams had three, Anthony two.
“Just better execution is what it comes down to,” George said.
It’s a wonder, however, how this would have ended up without Westbrook, who looked like the usual version of himself, taking over late and trying to win it on his own. His 38 points, 10 rebounds and five assists weren’t enough. Neither were all the shots he took during a fourth quarter he treated like it was 2016.
Lately, not much has been.