The Oklahoma City Thunder fans got their money’s worth plus more on Friday night as the Thunder and the Timberwolves hit clutch shot after clutch shot, taking the game into two overtimes in an electric shootout that left the fans with sore legs and scratchy throats.
With a tie score and no shot clock remaining in regulation, Kevin Durant crossed over to his left, stepped back, and drilled a three over a helpless Anthony Tolliver in yet another unguardable score for one of the league’s elite players. With 3.9 seconds remaining, the Wolves called a timeout and received the ball just in front of half court. Going to their own elite player, Kevin Love managed to get a fade-away three-point look over the Thunder defense and stunned the OKC crowd, sinking yet another triple and sending the game into overtime.
Overtime was no different, as each team answered each other’s shots and played each other perfectly equal. With a little under a minute left in OT, the Wolves caught fire and took a 5 point lead, their largest lead of the ballgame. However, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant refused to go away, and Kevin Durant sank another huge three-point shot, sending the game into a second overtime. With the Timberpups missing both Nikola Pekovic and Michael Beasley due to sore feet, the Wolves were already short-handed against the NBA’s top team on the last game of their 7 game, 13 day road trip. Noticeably exhausted, the Pups were unable to hang on but played their hearts out, losing 149-140 in what became an instant classic.
Kevin Love finished with a Timberwolves franchise and personal career high of 51 points on 16-27 shooting, netting a career high 7 of his 11 three-point attempts in a tiring 49 minutes of action. If there were ever any K-Love doubters in Oklahoma City before tonight, there’s not anymore. The sold out Chesapeake Arena witnessed the greatest scoring performance in Minnesota Timberwolves history, greater than anything that Kevin Garnett did while with the ballclub. The most amazing part of it was that Love carried the team against the league’s best team without Ricky Rubio, Pekovic, or Beasley, and put on a clinic while further solidifying himself as the best PF in the world. The Thunder’s depth played a key role in their win tonight, as the Wolves went with only an 8-man rotation, despite playing a 58-minute ball game. Despite being out-sized, out-talented, and exhausted in the last game of their longest road trip of the season, the Wolves displayed resilience and pride as a team by nearly knocking off a truly great team in a game that they had no business being in.
Overshadowed by Kevin Love’s historic night, backup PG JJ Barea managed a triple-double with an eye-popping stat line of 25 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds. The smallest player on the court out-hustled the opposition and went after loose balls with tremendous effort, all to the delight of veteran head coach Rick Adelman. In the first and second overtimes, Barea was seemingly unaffected by the strenuous minutes on the court and was able to blow past obviously exhausted OKC defenders for easy layups. Barea really pushed the tempo and brought the veteran leadership and end of game experience that the Wolves were looking for when they signed him in free agency this past winter. JJ did an excellent job distributing the rock, particularly in the first half when he recorded an incredible 10 assists. However, Barea faced matchup problems against the big, strong, and athletic Russell Westbrook, as he was able to grab late rebounds over him during the final stretches of the game. Westbrook is arguably the most physically gifted athlete to ever play the point guard position in NBA history, and so it is tough to knock Barea for not being able to hang with him.
Starting tonight at PG for the Pups was Luke Ridnour, who did not enjoy the success that his backup had. Ridnour was able to tally 8 assists, but he managed to only convert 4 of his 15 shot attempts and missed a few wide-open looks from beyond the arc. Luke simply did not have his shot tonight, but he played tough defense and still possessed a +3 despite his poor shooting.
I cannot say enough about the spark that Anthony Tolliver has brought to this team these last few weeks. After playing extremely limited minutes all season long, Tolliver began seeing an increased role when Pekovic’s foot problems began a few weeks back, and he has made the most of his opportunities and has impressed his coaches, teammates, and fans. Tolliver could not have played better tonight, scoring 23 points on 9-13 shooting while grabbing 7 rebounds in 44 minutes off of the bench. AT brings a swagger and a great attitude to the floor that his teammates feed off of, and he is not only a class act but he has been playing out of his mind as of late. I am extremely impressed by the enormous growth of his game, and he is beginning to evolve into more than simply an above average defender for the Pups.
The T-Wolves number four overall draft pick from two summers ago was yet again a non-factor in this game, as he played only 16 minutes and missed his only shot attempt. I would not be half surprised if the majority of fans at the Chesapeake Arena did not realize that Wes Johnson stepped onto the floor tonight, as all he did was practically watch his teammates play basketball. It continues to amaze me how Wes is able to squander away so much talent and athleticism on a team where he has so many opportunities to have success. With only 4 weeks left in the regular season, it is not out of the question that Wes could lose his starting spot to either Derrick Williams or Michael Beasley.
With Pekovic out and Darko in Adelman’s doghouse, Derrick Williams got another start, but played only 24 minutes. D-Will did not play poorly, but he was largely ineffective after getting out to a hot start shooting the ball, and he did not play well defensively. Williams ended with 12 points and 2 rebounds.
Martell Webster also saw very limited time tonight despite getting the start at SG, and he ended with only 4 points in 22 minutes. Out-playing Webster was Wayne Ellington who, off the bench, scored 12 points on 5-10 shooting in 36 minutes. Ellington had a very tough time guarding OKC’s beast of a SG in James Harden, and Harden finished with 25 points and 6 assists.
Oklahoma City proved why they are the biggest threat in the West, as they not only boast arguably the most talented roster in the NBA but they also thrive in clutch situations. Russell Westbrook finished with 45 points and Kevin Durant ended with 40 points and a season-high 17 rebounds. All you can do is tip the cap to OKC, as the Pups played a sensational game while facing a lot of adversity.
- Key Player: Kevin Love was able to nail one clutch three-pointer, but Kevin Durant hit two. Both players had phenomenal performances and games like tonight’s are the reasons why people love NBA basketball.
- Key Stat: Minnesota shot 28-36 from the free throw line, but OKC sank 19 of their 20 looks from the charity stripe. In a game that went into 2 overtimes, every point holds tremendous value, and who knows if this one would have gone into extra time if Minnesota had taken advantage of a few more free throws
Photo Credits: Alonzo Adams – Associated Press