You expected Oklahoma City to lack some energy tonight. You expected the Thunder to come out flat. But after a 13-2 start to the game, it looked like the were no heavy legs, at least on the Thunder side. But sometimes the fatigue doesn’t hit you right away. It sneaks up on you later on and when you let your guard down, the other guy strikes. And that’s what happened to the Thunder in Minnesota tonight.
OKC kept the Timberwolves at an arms length for most of the game, but a breakdown to end the third quarter allowed Minnesota to come all the way back and actually take a lead in the fourth quarter. It was clearly a fatigue issue, both mentally and physically. But like good teams have the ability to do, the Thunder clamped down and turned it on, going on a 9-0 run to seize control again. It was one of those weird games where OKC had control of the game, while losing complete control of the game. I know that doesn’t make sense, but that’s really how it was.
The one guy that clearly lost focus and energy was Kevin Durant. He got his 25 points for the 28th straight game (32 points, 8-16 shooting, six rebounds), but in the second half he had 14 on only three made baskets and didn’t hit his first bucket in the half until there was 7:20 left in the fourth. KD turned the ball over, quit moving without the ball and wasn’t getting the same lift on his jumper. But he hit the shot of the night, an and-one 3 that ended up giving him his 25th and 26th points. And KD also was big at the free throw line, hitting 14-15 at the stripe, including big ones down the stretch that iced it away. It’s not like Durant played bad by any means, it’s just that I think he obviously tired some in crunch time. But like the great ones do, he stepped up in ways he had to and made the big plays to help his team win.
Oh yeah, and Russell Westbrook. I think it’s pretty clear that Westbrook is walking his way into the elite point guard group. Yes, you read that right. FINALLY he gets his triple-double, after flirting for them for around a month now (22 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds). In the first half, he was as good as he’s ever been. He had nine assists at the half, was dishing and creating, was hitting jumpers and was making great decisions. I thought he got a little ball-hoggy in the second half, but when you’re carrying the load offensively, I think you kind of earn that right a bit. As I’ve said about Russ lately, he’s just awesome in transition. He’s at his absolute best in the open floor. He’s decisive, he’s instinctive and he seems to always make the right play. Watching the guy now, it’s kind of funny to think back we ever actually had conversations about whether or not he was the point guard of the future.
- How big was Jeff Green tonight? When Minnesota took its first lead of the night at 88-86, Green calmly knocked down a 3 to put OKC up for good. How many times has he hit a shot similar to that this year? Oh, and he had 17 points and 14 rebounds, including 10 in the first half. My favorite play of the night was when Uncle Jeff wrestled away a rebound from Ryan Gomes late in the fourth quarter. THAT’S the kind of aggressiveness we’ve been looking for on the glass from Green. More of that and he’ll be a double-double threat every night.
- Maybe the most underwriting storyline of the night was that Kevin Ollie came off the bench at the end of the third quarter in front of Eric Maynor. Maynor has been struggling mightily lately, playing with less confidence. I think it was a smart move by Scott Brooks to kick Maynor in the butt a little, but to also make sure OKC didn’t let this game get away. That’s the great security in having a professional like Kevin Ollie. Always ready to play at the drop of a hat.
- How annoying was the wolf howl thing they kept playing over and over and over and over? If you said “very annoying,” you’d be right.
- A good example of how OKC wore down: In the first half, Minnesota shot just 39 percent. In the second, Minnesota shot almost 52 percent.
- James Harden is turning into quite the sharpshooter. He hit back-to-back 3s in an extremely cold-blooded way. He only played 21 minutes though, as Scott Brooks went with the defensive-minded Thabo to cover Corey Brewer. Brewer was one of Minny’s only chances to get back in the game, so it was a wise decision.
- This was an extremely poorly officiated game. THREE times, Ken Mauer was influenced by the Timberwolves to overturn a call. I’ve never seen that happen that many times.
- Nenad Krstic played a pretty decent ball game. He 10 points in 18 minutes and played some pretty good interior defense, especially in the first half.
- It really felt like Al Jefferson was playing really well and scoring at will, but he only had 10 points and six rebounds. He’s just not the same player after the knee injury. Kevin Love on the other hand was very impressive – 19 points and 14 rebounds for Westbrook’s old teammate.
- Is it just me or does the Thunder’s road jerseys look a shade lighter blue when in Minnesota?
- In the above picture, it looks like Westbrook went on to cram in a monster dunk. However, he opted to try and lay it in at the last second after realizing he was going to come up short. It wasn’t very pretty.
- I guess Oklahoma City helps players beat off the rust pretty well. Last night it was Tracy McGrady, tonight it was Darko Milicic. In 19 minutes, Darko had eight points and eight rebounds.
- As bad as OKC was at the line last night, that’s where the Thunder won this one. OKC hit 22 of 23 with Durant missing the only one. Without that, the Thunder gives this one away.
- Isn’t it kind of unbelievable that the Thunder is 12 games over, winners of nine straight and has a legit chance to finish in the top five of the Western Conference? Isn’t that pretty unreal? I don’t feel like we’re totally grasping this.
Just another notch on the belt for the Thunder, making this nine straight. They definitely lost some focus in this one, but I feel like it’s forgivable. Like I said, like an elite team, they stepped up and got the stops when they had to, executed when they needed points and ultimately won the second of a road back-to-back. That’s big time. Really big time.
Next up: At home Tuesday night against Phoenix.