The 53-19, Northwest division leaders, OKC Thunder took their show on the road to the Target Center Friday night to take on our Timberwolves for the last time this season. The Timberwolves beat the Thunder at home back on 12/20, but have dropped the last meetings in Oklahoma City by a wide margin.
While the Timberwolves have been playing better via getting injured players back into the lineup over the past two weeks, the team was hit with a bit of bad news earlier Friday; Kevin Love still isn’t cleared to play because of his hand injury. We might learn more next week on whether or not Love will be able to return to action at all this season.
Here is how Friday night’s game progressed. The Wolves opened up with the following lineup – Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic. The Thunder countered with Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins.
Both teams started off cold from the field with the Wolves taking a small lead in the early minutes. Going into the first timeout, the Thunder and Wolves were tied at 10, but both teams were shooting under 35% from the field. Coming out of the timeout, Russell Westbrook seemed to decide that it was his time to take over, putting in a quick 7 points and 3 assists with a few minutes left in the 1st quarter.
At the end of the 1st, the Timberwolves and Thunder were tied at 23 apiece. The Wolves were able to stick with the Thunder via their offensive rebounding prowess, collecting 7 in the first twelve minutes. Nikola Pekovic had a very strong 1st quarter, with a game high 8 points and 7 rebounds going into the 2nd. The only other worthwhile note from the 1st would be a chippy sequence between Barea and Kevin Martin. Barea seems to get under someone’s skin every game now (if you include mine).
The Thunder came out strong in the 2nd quarter, including a surprise performance from Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet put down a thunder dunk (pun alert) in the opening minute and then picked up a steal to lead to a fast break. After a Derek Fisher three pointer, the Thunder took their biggest lead of the game, 30-23. However, the Wolves countered quickly with their own 7-0 run to tie the game up, leading to a Thunder timeout.
A back and forth affair continued through the remainder of the 2nd quarter. The good news; the Wolves held a 53-48 lead at halftime. Chase Budinger had a solid few minutes as well – going 2-3 from the field, both of his makes from three point range, and 2-2 from the free throw line for 8 points. The bad news; Dante Cunningham left the court and went to the locker room with a wrist injury in the 2nd quarter.
Here are a couple of halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:
- Breaking: Kevin Durant is good. 8-9 for 17 points in the 1st half and it looked effortless
- Russell Westbrook and the Thunder forced two early fouls on Rubio but he was able to avoid picking up a third for the remainder of the half. (A huge break)
- Paging Andrei Kirilenko! Where are you?
Minnesota continued their strong play in the 3rd quarter, going down low to Pekovic, but also coming alive from long range as well. Durant and Westbrook continued to carry the Thunder, keeping the team within striking distance. Tonight’s game actually has me rethinking my thoughts on the forthcoming playoffs. I have been thinking it was the Thunder’s really to lose and didn’t see it happening. However, without a consistent Kevin Martin / third wheel, they are going to struggle to get through the conference and are absolutely beatable in a seven game series.
Pekovic continued to dominate in the paint, finishing the 3rd quarter with 18 & 14. Kirilenko and Rubio had strong quarters as well. In more good news, Dante Cunningham returned to the court for the final few seconds of the 3rd quarter. After three quarters of very enjoyable basketball, the Pups held an 80-77 lead going into the final twelve minutes.
The Thunder went cold in the 4th quarter allowing the Wolves to extend their lead to 11 points with five minutes left in the game. Rubio, Cunningham, Budinger, and Pekovic were all making positive contributions. However, you knew the Thunder weren’t going to go away quietly, as they quickly cut the lead down to 5 points with about four minutes to go.
Despite their effort, the Thunder couldn’t complete the comeback. The Wolves wind up splitting the season series with the Thunder, with both teams winning their two, respective home games. Final score from the Target Center was Minnesota Timberwolves 101 – Oklahoma City Thunder 93. A great, team win from our Pups!
Keys of the Game
- Bench play – The Wolves bench scored 33 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Solid performances throughout the rotation for the home team. OKC’s bench was virtually nonexistent, putting up 17 points; including a miserable performance from Kevin Martin (1-9 from the field for 4 points and very little else).
- Free throws – While by no means did the Wolves dominate this area (22-27 vs. 16-20 for OKC) it is an area worth calling out, given the Thunder’s overall strength in getting to and converting on free throws (#1 in the league in both).
Three Stars of the Game
- Nikola Pekovic – A huge night from Pekovic from beginning to end. He dominated the Thunder in the paint, finishing with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
- Kevin Durant – Durant showed the locals why he is the NBA’s second greatest star right now, behind LeBron. KD finished with 36 points on 13-19 shooting and 7 rebounds.
- Ricky Rubio – This was very close to going to Chase Budinger, and then Rubio poked away the ball with twenty seconds remaining in the game to seal the victory. Rubio finished with 17 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals. Rubio was a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line tonight.