We were waiting. And waiting. And waiting.
When would Oklahoma City lock down, go on a run and finally put this one on ice? Twice I thought it had happened. After a 15-0 run in the third, OKC seized control. But Minnesota had a response. Then after the Wolves closed and took an 84-83 lead late in the fourth, the Thunder ripped off another run accented by five straight from Jeff Green and then six straight from Kevin Durant to go up eight.
But again, Minnesota wouldn’t die. After Al Jefferson connected on a little hook shot, the Wolves had it back to 94-92 with 41 seconds left. And following Russell Westbrook’s seventh turnover, the Thunder got a big stop after Serge Ibaka defended Jefferson perfectly on the block.
But again, this game wouldn’t die. OKC couldn’t get the ball inbounds and Minny picked up a turnover. But that’s when Jeff Green came up with ANOTHER game saving play as he denied Corey Brewer at the rim on a play that would’ve tied the game with two seconds left.
Say what you want about Uncle Jeff. Yes, his stats have dipped. Yes, he’s slumped shooting the ball. Yes, sometimes he’s not great on the glass. But if there is one thing about Jeff Green, it’s that he’s a winning basketball player. When the Thunder was struggling offensively, he hit two HUGE shots. When Minnesota had a chance to tie the game, he just makes another incredible play at the rim. He’s exactly the kind of player you need on a team. Someone that no matter what, will give max effort and always seems to be making winning plays. I don’t care what you say, it isn’t a coincidence that he’s playing 40 minutes a night for a 24-18 team.
I won’t lie though, this one was unnecessarily close. After the Thunder went up 94-86, I think we all pretty much wanted to turn out the lights. Durant was taking over and Minny couldn’t score. But turnovers and bad offensive execution nearly doomed OKC into a bad, bad loss. It’s an issue – just 17 points in the fourth for OKC after only scoring 15 against the Hawks Monday. Things tighten up for some reason. A good example: Westbrook had eight assists in the first half. He had just two in the second half. The screens aren’t as good, the cuts aren’t as crisp and shots don’t always fall. But that’s exactly why Scott Brooks preaches defense. Sometimes you can’t control offense. But you can always hang in there by defending.
- A major underrated performance comes from Serge Ibaka. His post defense on Jefferson was excellent in the second half. Without that, the Thunder don’t win this one. His numbers don’t blow you away (seven points, three rebounds in 22 minutes), but somebody had to man up on Jefferson and Ibaka got the call. And he did a darn good job.
- The Wolves had six offensive rebounds in the first half. They finished with only seven. OKC outrebounding the very tough Wolves 39-33 for the game. But yet Minny took 11 more shots, mainly due to 19 OKC turns.
- The Thunder was so good in transition in the first half. Westbrook was dishing every where, oops were coming out of nowhere and the team was running the floor. OKC had 16 fast break points in the first half, but only two in the second. Russ is probably at his best on a break. He just makes great decisions.
- Durant finished with 31 points on 9-18 shooting, including 2-3 from 3 and 11-11 from the line. Oh, and 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals. That’s 16 straight games for KD to score 25 or more points, which ties him with LeBron for most consecutive games to do it for a player under the age of 22.
- The Target Center was so empty. You could hear every natural sound and a ton of communication from the players. I sometimes wonder if that kind of affects the Thunder. And while I love Brian Davis’ energy, it’s kind of awkward when the arena is silent and he’s yelling, “KEVIN DURANT WITH THE DRIVE!!!!”. I honestly wonder if the players can hear him.
- One thing about Uncle Jeff I noticed: It seems like after every time he pumps, he goes right. I distinctly remember Brian Cardinal falling for the pump with Green in the corner, and instead of going left on the open baseline, Green went right, taking him straight into Cardinal. Because Green is right-handed, when players fall for his fake, their momentum takes them to Green’s right side. So it would make sense to go the opposite way. I really don’t know why Green doesn’t.
- Another thing about Green: It seems like he passes on a good first look a lot. He’ll catch and be open, pass on the shot and a lot of times end up taking a more difficult shot. I don’t think he’s indecisive, but more trying to be patient. But everyone is a better shooter when in rhythm.
- There were seven “That’s Thunder basketball!” mentions from Grant Long. All coming in the fourth quarter. He really took this one over late in the clutch.
- Did the Thunder’s unis look a shade brighter than normal to anyone else? Maybe it was just Minnesota’s court, but they just had a different color to them it seemed.
- Hey Damien Wilkins, I still hate you. Fifteen points on 6-8 shooting? Thanks for nothing.
- OKC is 20-6 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.
- Nenad Krstic had four blocks in 25 minutes. Yes, you read that right.
- So many times it looks like a rebound is going to whiz over Durant’s head, but he reaches up with his go-go-gadget arms and snares it.
- What the heck Corey Brewer? Since when did you decide to be an awesome offensive player and drain jumpers from everywhere? He had 25 on 10-17 shooting, but at one point was 10-14 from the field and was keeping Minny in the game by himself.
- Minnesota played 11 guys tonight. OKC just eight. The Thunder’s bench provided 26 points, highlighted by 12 big points from James Harden. The Wolves got 17 from their six subs.
- Oklahoma City won it’s 24th game tonight. Last year, the Thunder won No. 24… never.
I guess we could be upset about the lack of style points, but it’s a win. And that makes me happy. It may have been against Minnesota in a game that maybe shouldn’t have been this close, but the Thunder’s important people carried the team to a win, putting the OKC franchise six games over for the first time since the 2004-05 season. So while yes, it was a near disaster, the Thunder had more points on the scoreboard at the end and locked up win No. 24. So I’ll take it.
Next up: On the road against Memphis Friday night.