OKLAHOMA CITY — Hamidou Diallo kept the Thunder competitive the entire game, and it looked like it was about to pay off.
With 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Thunder forward Justin Jackson stole the Timberwolves’ inbounds pass. The ball fell to Diallo, who then attacked the rim in a two-on-one transition opportunity.
But the shot rolled off the rim and was rebounded by Minnesota. Seconds later, Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell made a 3-pointer to give his team the lead with 2.9 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Diallo hoisted a prayer as the buzzer sounded and it fell short to hand the Thunder a 106-103 loss on Friday.
Despite the final possession, Diallo played one of his best games in an Oklahoma City uniform.
With the Thunder missing several key players — including starters Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort and George Hill — the team had just eight available players Friday night, forcing Diallo into the starting lineup.
He acted as the team’s lead ball-handler, frequently bringing the rock up the floor and running multiple pick-and-rolls.
He responded to the opportunity, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting and a career-high 10 assists — six more than his previous single-game record.
“The fact you can put the ball in his hands that much is not something I think he would’ve handled that well in past seasons,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He got rid of the ball early and helped the team get into a rhythm. I thought the ball got a little sticky in the first quarter, but I thought everyone did a good job sharing the ball for most of the game, and that was [Diallo] and everyone.”
Diallo has recorded his best per-game averages across the board during his third season. He’s currently averaging 11.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists, all career best.
Friday also marked Diallo’s eighth consecutive game finishing with 10-or-more points, a stretch where he’s posted nearly 14 points per game.
“He’s playing really well for us,” Isaiah Roby said, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds on Friday. “He’s pushing it on the break and he’s a great finisher. He’s playing really good team basketball.
“He’s kind of the engine when he’s in the game, and you know you’re getting his best every night. … When he’s on the court, he’s fun to play with. He makes the right play and he gets everyone involved. He goes right at the other team and plays up-tempo basketball.”
Diallo helped lead the team’s offense against the Timberwolves with the assistance of veteran Al Horford, who finished the game with 26 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
“This year, he’s been given an opportunity to handle the ball, make plays and do different things,” Horford said of Diallo. “I think it’s great for his confidence and understanding how he needs to play and how he impacts the game. He can attack and make plays for others.”
On the Timberwolves side, Malik Beasley was the standout, finishing with 24 points and five rebounds. Russell finished with 21 points and six assists. The 2020 NBA Draft’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards scored nine points on 3 of 14 shooting.
“Sometimes it comes down to a make or a miss. ... I thought Russell’s shot was tough, but we defended it well,” Daigneault said. “We had the steal on the inbound and we pushed the ball, we just didn’t convert. … We’ve come down the stretch in games and executed well. We’re just taking the opportunities and trying to compete and put our best foot forward.”