Having not gone through a four-game losing streak in almost four years, the fact the Thunder avoided that is definitely the most important thing. Especially considering the opponent, and the location.
Playing the struggling Wolves at home, the Thunder sort of got right. They scored 127 points, shot 57.8 percent from the field, dominated the boards, went 9-14 from 3, didn’t miss a free throw (22-22) and got big performances from Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin.
That’s the good part. The bad part is they also allowed 111 points, 58 in the first half, 53 in the second half. Considering Scott Brooks spent 90 percent of his pregame talking about re-focusing on defense after some lackluster performances, that’s not ideal.
“I’m not thrilled at all with our defense,” Scott Brooks said. “What we have is not broken, it’s just not working at the moment.”
One defensive standout: Kendrick Perkins. He was a gametime decision leading up to tip-off with a strained knee, but he played, and played very well. The Wolves’ top offensive threat was Nikola Pekovic, but Perk entirly neutralized him. Pekovic finished with only five points on 1-4 shooting and eventually was just sat down for most of the second half. While the Thunder’s defense got worked, I thought it was considerably better at times with Perk on the floor. He helped stabilized the paint a bit and jumped pick-and-rolls well.
For instance, the Wolves started the second quarter 13-of-15 from the field, all with Perk on the bench because of two early fouls. He subbed in for the last four minutes and the Wolves finished the quarter 2-of-9. That’s probably part regression to the mean, but I don’t think it was entirely coincidental.
“Perk took that [matchup with Pekovic] personally. And that’s what we want,” Durant said. “He did a really great job. Perk was great tonight, he really set the tone.”
KD also mentioned Perk’s strong play offensively and keeping things alive on the glass. In 25 minutes, Perk put up 10 points and seven rebounds. That’s good production. Extrapolate to per 36 and that’s 15 points and 10 rebounds. (Perk never plays 36 minutes and would never continue at that kind of pace, but still, the numbers are the numbers.)
Also great: Westbrook. A completely steady, level performance that featured an explosive offensive outburst. A season-high 37 points on 13-22 shooting, nine assists and seven rebounds. He Euro-stepped, he slashed, he jumpstopped, he splashed midrange jumpers, he knocked in 3-pointers — he was downright terrific. The Wolves had absolutely no answer for him physically and he just relentlessly attacked.
“He’s one of the top point guards in the league, that’s no doubt,” said Ricky Rubio. “He’s physically incredible; he can run, he can make shots, and he can provide. Like I said, he’s tough.”
Standards are high for the Thunder, seeing as a 16-point win doesn’t feel all that great. But it’s a solid win, considering the alternative is pretty sucky. The Thunder fancy themselves a defensive team, a group that digs in and shuts people down. But they do have the luxury of simply outscoring opponents. And that’s the goal — outscore your opponent. Something the Thunder have struggled with the past three games. So in that regard, consider them improved.
- Kevin Martin was really good. He fouled out in just 26 minutes, but hit seven of his 11 shots for 19 points and showed a little of that second unit aggression and assertiveness that’s been missing recently. He had 15 against the Rockets the other night, but I barely noticed any of them. Tonight, his 19 seemed to have a much larger impact.
- OKC’s bench has really struggled defensively lately. The Wolves’ second unit torched the Thunder for 59 points, which seeing as Ronnie Brewer is a defensive-minded bench player, that could help.
- Martin on Ronnie Brewer: “I put Ronnie as one of the top five guys I always hated to guard me.”
- Pregame, Rick Adelman talked about how J.J. Barea was in a shooting slump. Which naturally terrified me because with him playing the Thunder, it was perfectly set up for him to break out. And with him starting 4-5 from the floor, it appeared to be happening. But Barea slowed down — and got in foul trouble — and finished with 14 on 6-10 shooting. He didn’t kill OKC for once. The Thunder won twice tonight.
- In the first half, Minnesota’s starters went 7-25, its bench 16-18.
- Tonight was Rumble’s birthday celebration so a bunch of opposing mascots were in the building. One being Rocky from Denver. With tensions high, nothing happened between him and Russell Westbrook tonight. Though I was hoping Rocky would come flying out of nowhere to goaltend a Westbrook jumper at some point.
- Portland’s mascot completely bit it trying to do a trampoline dunk and walked away limping. So that’s what Greg Oden’s been up to lately.
- Nick Collison: “I think on the offensive end we were good. We shared the ball. We did a better job of the smaller things in our plays and our setups. Our cuts were better, which led to better shots. Defensively we weren’t as good as we needed to be. We gave up too many points and had too many lapses.”
- The inflatable mascot medley was the best part of the night. So good. Air Clutch went over and sprayed silly string over like three rows of fans. I need a professional inflatable mascot league in my life. Or maybe the Inflatable Mascot Channel.
- In the first quarter, KD walked over to the scoretable and slammed his hand down HARD. Apparently he was pretty upset with himself. At the time, he was 1-4 from the floor and got going after that, finishing with 27 on 9-17.
- I’ve watched Russell Westbrook play a whole lot of games in person, but his bounce is never not impressive. The way he accelerates into a takeoff is still breathtaking.
- OKC with 28 assists tonight. The Thunder’s offense is noticeably better when there’s that kind of sharing going on. There’s still room for the one-on-one slashing and scoring from Westbrook and Durant, but that shouldn’t cut out the sharing.
- Another pretty quiet night for Serge Ibaka, but part of that was due to a lack of playing time. The Wolves stayed small for a lot of the second half which kept Ibaka off the floor (just 21 minutes). He finished with six points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
- Derrick Williams shoots with some seriously weird sidespin. I feel like it’s a miracle every time it goes in.
- The halftime show tonight was a dance-off between the Thunder Girls and the mascots here for Rumble’s birthday. It ended with Houston’s mascot Clutch running around in a pink thong. It was not the best.
- Why the Wolves wear white shoes with their road black uniforms, I’ll never know.
- DeAndre Liggins played some minutes in the first half, which made me wonder if Brooks was trying to get a feel what it’ll be like to have Brewer in the rotation. Liggins was solid too. Hit a 3, was energetic as always.
- Some rumors flying around tonight that Derek Fisher is currently in OKC. A team source denied that to me, but when I asked if he was eventually coming in, he said, “He’s not here.” Another source seemed to indicate it was a definite possibly and maybe a certainty. So who knows.
Next up: Sunday at home against the Bulls.