If you would’ve told me two weeks ago that I would be much more impressed by the Thunder’s win over the Wolves than the one over the Magic, I would’ve thrown hot coffee in your face.
But the Thunder’s 104-100 win in Minnesota had three big factors that made it great: 1) This Wolves team isn’t your typical crappy Minnesota team 2) the Thunder were playing in a back-to-back after traveling a couple hundred miles north and 3) Minnesota was 10-1 in their last 11 home openers before tonight.
And the Thunder walked in, survived a terrible shooting start, hung in with defense, got it going in the second half and then closed out the Wolves with a few big plays from James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It’s just the mark of a good team. Surviving in a trap game because your good players were good.
Down two, Harden created a layup for Perk with a beautiful drive and dish. Then after a stop, Westbrook was gifted two free throws on a questionable foul and knocked them both down. OKC stopped the Wolves, the Wolves stopped OKC and with 20 seconds left, Minnesota had a chance to tie. Michael Beasley looked to have a game-tying layup but Perk rotated wonderfully to challenge him and force a miss. And then Perk knocked down two free throws to ice it, which makes a sentence that I didn’t expect to type.
Oklahoma City can sometimes just wear down teams with talent. The Wolves have their fair share, but it’s very rare when Kevin Durant and Westbrook don’t play well at the same time. And if they’re not, Harden almost always saves the day. For instance, KD started this one 2-8 and was struggling. Westbrook, a little of the same. But Harden scored 14 in the first half, sparking the offense and helping OKC carry a 52-46 lead into the half. Harden scored just two in the second half and while I would’ve liked to have seen more, he was just fitting in as KD and Westbrook carried OKC at different times.
Gutty win against a Wolves team that will beat a lot of contenders. But the Thunder survived in a game set up for them to lose. They did it by just being good. This game was a perfect example of how one team understands how to win and how another is trying to figure it out. OKC did the little things, made the plays, hit free throws and Perk made two big plays to get it done. Impressive win by the Thunder.
- Durant scored 16 in the third, hit seven straight shots at one point (including this dandy) and finished with 33 points on 12-23 shooting. Westbrook was a tad erratic, but turned in a very Westbrook game: 28 points (10-21), six assists and six rebounds.
- Here’s why Westbrook is just… well, Russell Westbrook. He had just picked up his fourth offensive foul of the night — his seventh turnover — and the very next possession he responds by attacking Rubio on a fast break and drawing an and-1. He never stops coming, no matter what the situation.
- OKC went 6-22 from the field in the first quarter. Then the Thunder made 7-8 and went on a 14-2 run which was punctuated by Perk alley-ooping to KD on a fast break. So to recap: Perk made two big free throws and led a perfect fast break.
- KD had 29 after three quarters and just four in the fourth. Some are already looking at Westbrook, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Westbrook did the heavy lifting late, Durant is the reason Westbrook had the opportunity to do it. Why does it matter who does what when, when the team wins?
- I had forgotten how bad the Thunder’s starting lineup video is.
- Classic example late in how Durant sometimes doesn’t know how to get open. Beasley was holding him and clearly KD wanted to post, but couldn’t get free. Westbrook was forced to create something on his own and missed a tough jumper. The problem with this was that Westbrook didn’t have a secondary option.
- A few thoughts on Ricky Rubio: He was fantastic. I’ve been a big doubter of his, but tonight was a great example of how dynamic he can be. He had six points and six assists, but it felt like he controlled the game. He was a truly dangerous offensive weapon every second he was on the floor. When he had the ball, I was terrified because I could just feel a perfectly threaded bounce pass coming at any second. He’s a passing virtuoso. He no-looks everything, which keeps the defense guessing and gives the guy he’s passing it to just an extra second of space. Color me impressed.
- When J.J. Barea subbed in, I had totally forgotten he was with the Wolves now. I also had forgotten how annoying and floppy he is, but it took just 13 seconds for him to flail, drawing an offensive foul on Westbrook.
- Luke Ridnour… so sad about your ankles man.
- Sometimes I wonder if OKC’s best halfcourt offense is the pick-and-roll with Harden and Collison. Just once I’d like to see Brooks try and close a game with that, just to try it out.
- Serge Ibaka with just 19 minutes again tonight. I know I said it was a matchup thing in the first game, but I think that was the case again here. The Wolves stayed small for most of the second half with Kevin Love at the 5 and Beasley/Derrick Williams at the 4. So KD played power forward a lot with Perk at center. Ibaka was productive and knocked down a few jumpers though, so it wasn’t like he played bad.
- The bench won the Magic game, the starting five got it done in Minnesota.
- Obviously I was as impressed by Rubio as anyone, but the Minnesota crowd oooo’ed over even his simple chest passes.
- Daequan Cook showed his value in the second half. He played just 14 minutes and scored only six points, but he dropped two very big 3s when OKC was stalling.
- OKC went 29-31 from the foul line. And also outrebounded Minnesota by two. Big box score numbers there.
- To anyone that actually wants to ask if OKC messed up taking Harden ahead of Rubio: Don’t. You’ll sound stupid.
- The Thunder’s halfcourt offense looks brutal at times. Definitely a weakness right now, but the transition game could run a lot of teams out the building by halftime. When OKC gets rolling on the break, you aren’t stopping them.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Now that was a GRANDMA shot!”
Next up: Wednesday at Memphis.