MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves were already down one of their two All-Star centers headed into their game against Oklahoma City.
Then for most of their 135-128 loss to the Thunder, they had to get by without both.
In playing their second game since losing Karl-Anthony Towns to a right calf injury, the Wolves lost Rudy Gobert to an ejection for a flagrant foul-two in the second quarter.
The team that is trying to prove it can win in the NBA by going super big had to try to win while going super small. It couldn't do it.
After a 44-point third quarter, the Wolves couldn't keep pace with the Thunder — nor overcome what they thought were some unfair whistles — in the fourth. They also didn't help themselves with 23 turnovers that led to 34 points for Oklahoma City.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 33 points to lead seven Thunder players in double figures. Anthony Edwards had 26 for the Wolves while D'Angelo Russell had 27. Naz Reid had 13 points and 18 rebounds.
Gobert was ejected following an official review of a foul he committed with 9 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter. After he fell down with Oklahoma City's Kenrich Williams, Gobert tripped Williams as the two were attempting to get up. Officials ruled that Gobert's move was intentional and excessive and then kicked him out of the game. Before the end of the game, Russell joined Gobert (six points, four rebounds) after getting ejected himself for getting two techincals
Gobert's exit only added to the Wolves' problems coming into the night. They appeared lifeless on offense at the start as the Thunder grabbed a nine-point lead. Gilgeous-Alexander gave them fits on the defensive end and scored nine of his 13 first-quarter points at the free-throw line.
Minnesota didn't climb back into it until it went into its bench. Point guard Jordan McLaughlin returned from a four-game absence and provided his usual dose of ball movement, and the Wolves went on a 9-0 run to tie the game.
They would trail for most of the second as they struggled to contain the Thunder's dribble penetration. But Edwards got going in the second, especially after Gobert was ejected. He found success driving to the bucket and scored 18 in the first half to outpace Gilgeous-Alexander's 15 and the Wolves trailed 63-57 at the break.
Adding to the Wolves' frontcourt issues, Jaden McDaniels, who returned after three games because of an illness, picked up his fourth foul just 18 seconds into the third quarter. But the Wolves came out with the most energy they had all night, and staged an 11-0 run to grab just their second lead of the game 71-69.
The Wolves' ability to move the ball in smaller lineups made up for their shortcomings defensively. They went on to score 44 in the third to Oklahoma City's 34. The Wolves shot 73% in the quarter, but they couldn't keep up that energy in the fourth. They couldn't take advantage of the minutes Gilgeous-Alexander was resting and fell behind 115-110 with 7:08 to play.
The Wolves found themselves on the end of what they thought was an unfortunate whistle for a good chunk of the fourth, especially after replay review didn't overturn a charge call on Edwards, and the night just spiraled from there. The Thunder upped their lead to double digits, and that was the night.©2022 StarTribune. Visit at startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.