MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Rudy Gobert had 23 points and 15 rebounds in his Minnesota debut, and the Timberwolves recovered to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-108 on Wednesday in the season opener.
D’Angelo Russell had 20 points and Jaden McDaniels added 19 points for the Timberwolves, who turned a 16-point lead into a six-point deficit during the third quarter.
Gobert stepped up with a steadying hand on a night when Karl-Anthony Towns (12 points) and Anthony Edwards (11 points) shot a combined 6 for 27 from the floor. Jaylen Nowell, who had 13 points, put the Timberwolves ahead for good with his layup with 10:47 remaining.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 32 points and cut the lead to 105-103 with 4:04 left, but they didn't get any closer after that.
One of the most anticipated seasons for Timberwolves fans in the star-crossed history of their team, coming off a return to the playoffs and the blockbuster addition of Gobert in a summer trade with Utah, began with the 7-foot-1 Frenchman greeting the crowd during the pregame hype.
They had to work for this win against a pesky, young and fast Thunder team that’s playing without injured No. 2 overall draft pick Chet Holmgren.
The Timberwolves won all four matchups with the Thunder last season by an average of more than 26 points and were in complete control of the first half, until a meltdown late in the third quarter left the Thunder an opening to make a game of it and then some.
After Minnesota went ahead by a game-high 16 points, the Thunder went on a 27-5 run. Eugene Omoruyi, who did fine work defending Towns during that stretch, knocked down a shot in the paint for Oklahoma City’s first lead with 3:01 left in the period.
Gobert single-handedly cranked the crowd energy back up by stealing a bad pass by Mike Muscala, beating him to the loose ball and flipping in a one-handed runner ahead of the buzzer to tie it at 87. Gobert dunked on Josh Giddey for a 92-89 lead to give the fans another highlight.
The Thunder had a setback in the second quarter when rookie Jalen Williams – one of three 2022 lottery selections on the roster – injured his right eye while trying to defend a dunk attempt by McDaniels in the second quarter. Williams needed assistance to leave the floor and walk to the locker room and did not return, after scoring five points in six minutes.
The biggest question surrounding the Timberwolves is how effectively Gobert and Towns can play together, a pair of 7-footers – albeit with distinct skill sets – in this age of long-distance shooting and position-less small ball across the NBA.
Gobert put his name on the first basket of the season, a put-back of his own miss, and the twin towers provided a glimpse of how well they can play off of each other with Towns twice flipping him top-of-the-key lob passes for dunks in the first half.
Kenrich Williams and Aleksej Pokusevski were surprise starters in the frontcourt. The 7-foot Pokusevski had 11 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl started the second half in place of Williams.
The Thunder visit Denver on Saturday night. Their home opener is against Minnesota on Sunday night.