What you really saw tonight in Minnesota was how one team completely understands how to win and another that’s gotten pretty good at figuring out how to lose. The Timberwolves thought they had the Thunder on the ropes. After a 40-22 edge in the first quarter, another run late in the second quarter that pushed the halftime lead to 11 and even stretched out to a 13-point margin in the third.
But the Thunder kept at their game, pieced together a 6-0 run, then a 7-2 one and then another 8-2 one and before you knew it, a Kevin Durant dunk plus the foul gave OKC a one-point edge.
No doubt, the Thunder played a pretty poor first half. But they absolutely deserve some credit for the second and most importantly, for the win. The Wolves had a lot to do with it. Again, one team knows how to win, another knows how to lose. And the Wolves did everything they could to give it away. They went 17-26 from the line in the game and split every single trip to the stripe in the fourth quarter. The scored just 17 points in the fourth. They got outworked and outhustled. The Thunder made winning plays, Minnesota made losing ones.
(I mean, did the Thunder not kind of have the look of a good veteran team like the Spurs or Mavericks with the way they closed there? Big defensive stops, big shots, quality execution and for the most part, took care of the ball. Maybe that’s just me.)
Two keys to this game in my mind:
1) Kevin Durant came back to being Kevin Durant in the second half. It really started after a huge 28-foot 3-pointer that tied the game at 83-83 and then a driving, nasty and-one dunk that gave OKC its first lead since the first quarter. KD made two massive shots late in the game, played solid defense, grabbed 11 rebounds and even dished out a season-high six assists. He just looked like himself really. I don’t know how else to describe it. There was never any doubt that KD was going to get this thing going and tonight’s game might be the spark that starts it.
2) Serge Ibaka’s defensive impact can’t be understated. But before that even, credit to Scott Brooks for going with Nick Collison and Ibaka the entire fourth while Jeff Green sat. With Michael Beasley and Kevin Love providing a tough matchup inside, Brooks went with the two defensive-minded players that are both above-average rebounders. But Ibaka’s play is what made it look so smart. Serge blocked eight shots for the game, included six in the fourth quarter alone. On top of that, he grabbed five rebounds and scored 10 points on 5-7 shooting, which included a large jumper with a few minutes left.
No doubt the first half was something forgettable, especially the first quarter. That was probably as bad as I’ve seen this team play this season. No enthusiasm, no defense, no focus… you know, all those words. But the bench came in, provided a nice spark and got OKC back into the game getting it to seven. Then the starters picked up and had Minnesota’s lead to two before the Wolves stretched it back to 11 before half. But that little charge is what made the second half possible. And OKC turned it around there, allowing just 39 points in the last 24 minutes. Plus, they won.
- Russell Westbrook for once had a quietly excellent game. He finished with 25 points, eight assists and four rebounds, but was instrumental in the third quarter where OKC really took over. Westbrook went 7-9 from the field for 14 points and dished out four assists.
- KD, Westbrook and Ibaka get the box score stars for the night, but Nick Collison’s play on Kevin Love can’t be understated. Love had 15 points after the first quarter and looked well on his way to another 30-30 game. But with Collison on him in the second half, Love went 2-15 in the last two periods and finished with only 22 points. Still, he grabbed 21 rebounds, but Collison was effective.
- On Love’s rebounds: I don’t have the energy to rewatch and count, but I suspect Love’s rebounding stats were a bit padded. He does a lot of tipping on the offensive end and I think there’s some gray area between what’s a rebound and what’s simply just getting your finger on the ball.
- Consider: After the atrocious first, OKC outscored the Wolves 89-63.
- While OKC made the plays the win which was great, there really was a lot of opportunity to be up double-digits halfway through the fourth. A couple bad shots, a bunch of dumb passes and five straight empty possessions really hurt that. The good news was that the Thunder defended so the Wolves didn’t do any damage.
- KD fouled out on one of the worst calls of the season I’ve seen. If anyone fouled Michael Beasley, it was Ibaka. And I don’t even think Beasley was fouled as much as he stumbled. But the officials tabbed KD with the foul and he had to sit in a situation where he’d normally be the guy to close the door at the free throw line.
- But in that regard, props to Jeff Green for coming off the bench cold and hitting two big free throws that essentially sealed the game. Again, a difference in the game was how OKC capitalized on every opportunity, while Minny didn’t. Green made the big free throws. Beasley, Love and Corey Brewer didn’t.
- This was KD’s first 30-point game in 14 days. That’s pretty odd.
- OKC is now 7-1 after a loss. That’s impressive.
- Not to say OKC’s defense and lack of effort didn’t have everything to do with Minnesota’s big first quarter, but they also seemed to hit like everything. They started 6-8 from 3, but cooled off, finishing 8-18. The Thunder finished 52 percent on the night while the Wolves finished up at 42 percent.
- Mrs. DT had a comment that cracked me up when the Wolves played “Every-body clap your hands!” for the 15th time: “So how much do you think Grant Long made for doing that song?”
- Beasley really has no excuse to not be an elite scorer in this league. He’s just so multi-talented. Really, he can get any shot he wants and can make any shot he wants. He went for 26 but on 11-27 shooting, but started 7-11 from the field. He started forcing things, plus it hurt him when Serge Ibaka switched over to check him.
- It just hit me tonight: Please FS Oklahoma, please give us some new commercials. We’re only 23 games in and I want to take claw hammer to my bare feet every time I hear those freaking soft acoustic riffs come on.
- One critique on Brian Davis tonight: He kept saying how miserable Corey Brewer was shooting. Brewer was 4-11. There are plenty of nights where Westbrook is 6-14 from the field and it’s either a decent night or Westbrook “got no love from the rim.” That just bothered me some.
- If I told you Wesley Johnson played 43 minutes tonight, would you believe me?
- OKC’s role guys were big. Thabo had 13 points and six rebounds. Eric Maynor had seven big points in the second quarter. Ibaka and Collison made their difference. And even James Harden’s night was important, despite him scoring just six. Harden hit a big 3 and really helped spark that bench run in the second quarter.
It’s hard to say “Good win!” but a win on the road especially when you give up 40 in the first quarter ain’t all bad. It comes back to that winning thing. And when the Thunder does it, I can deal with the rest.
Next up: At the NBA Hornets Friday night.