Recap: Wolves Fall to Thunder, Drop Another Close Game

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder met for the third time this season Saturday night.

The Thunder entered the game 25-7, losers of two-consecutive, and without All Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson, filling in for Westbrook, averaged 4.8 assists in addition to 13 points – per game – in the Thunder’s previous five games. On the season, Jackson has scored 1 ppg less making appearances off-the-bench, but, as a starter — he averages nearly two-more assists per game — Jackson’s assists account for 8.6ppg (According to NBA Stats).

When these teams met in November the Wolves jumped out to an early, 34-19, first quarter lead and coasted the rest of the way. Kevin Love’s double-double included 24 points and 12 rebounds, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic combined to score 29 points, and Kevin Durant was held to only 13. The Wolves rolled the Thunder by 19, 81-100.

In the second meeting

  • Kevin Martin scored 22 points against his former team through three-quarters and the Wolves entered the fourth-quarter leading by five.
  • That’s until the Durant takeover happened. He scored only six-points in the final 12 minutes, but six assists and two clutch three-pointers helped buried the Wolves late in the game — 113-103.

The Wolves had another chance to get over the .500 mark against the Thunder on Saturday. Relevant: Kevin Love was sporting a clean shave.

First Half

The Wolves played with more energy than the Thunder and looked to get up-and-down the floor. In the halfcourt, the Thunder weren’t going to leave Love open under any circumstances and treated him as a “no-leave” threat on the perimeter (can’t blame them). This scheme left the rim unprotected, allowing Rubio and Pekovic to flourish early in the game.

Rubio had six points and one assist by the first commercial break and the Wolves continued the routine of playing well in the opening quarter. Although Thabo Sefolosha wasn’t going to be embarrassed by Kevin Martin, as he was in OKC in December, and Martin struggled to get anything going early on. When Rubio wasn’t looking to score he bounced entry passes to Pekovic, who danced, spun, and turned his way into position for lay-ups over an isolated Serge Ibaka. Pekovic ended the first-quarter with eight points.

At the end of the first-quarter the Wolves led the Thunder, 30-26.

The Wolves early four-point lead at the end of the first quarter dissipated within the first two minutes of the second and things quickly evened up at 30-30.

Sidebar

After Monday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks Love determined the benches performance was ‘unacceptable’, and Barea — “didn’t like it”. Adelman spoke as the voice of reason later on in the week.

“I don’t think that anybody can deny that five points isn’t going to do it for us. It’s the way you do it. Like Kevin said, I don’t think it was malicious.”

 Back to the game. 

Rick Adelman continued to intertwine Love and Pekovic with the lineup of Alexey Shved, J.J. Barea, Dante Cunningham and Robbie Hummel. The game continued at an up-and-down pace, here we pause for a Ratke update.

The Thunder and the Wolves exchanged buckets and free-throws before Scott Brooks called timeout with a little over three-minutes remaining in the half. Pekovic was still going to work in the low-block on Ibaka, continuing the recent journey of offensive dominance he’s embarked over the previous few weeks.

Reggie Jackson, playing in place of Westbrook, showed glimpses that should give Thunder fans relief — the leadership presence of Westbrook was still missing. Jackson’s line at half — 6 points, 2 assists, 3 rebounds and 4 turnovers. Pekovic led all scorers with 17, Durant close behind him with 16 while Love and Martin combined to score 19. Rubio, with his scoring recently coming into question, had 10 points and 4 assists going into the locker room. The way these teams traded blows it was shaping up to be a classic, and that’s what happened.

At Halftime the Wolves led the Thunder 55-49. 

Quarter Three

 

The Old Man Fisher scored 10 in the third quarter and this left an uneasy feeling in my side, I really wish he would go away.

This was tweeted by Bohl with around two-minutes remaining in the third quarter, I’ve confirmed Love didn’t see this tweet but he changed things in a hurry.

Love made two-3pt shots within 20 seconds of each other in final 35 seconds of the third-quarter. Rubio had 7 assists, 3 three rebounds and 5 steals. He was 4 of 10 from the field, 0 for 2 from three-point range but connected on 5 of 6 FT’s and had 13 points — the Wolves had a lead over the Thunder going into the 4th-quarter for the third time this season.

 

Durant connected on a jumper with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game, that’s when the Durantula emerged from the shadows on a hunt for Wolves. That initiated a 12-point run that brought the score to 90-92. The proverbial gig was up, it wasn’t the same game as before. When these teams met in Durant lifted the Thunder with his passing. On Saturday, his ability to score from anywhere was put on display in front of – a listed – 18,000 fans at Target Center.

This is the confidence of a prolific NBA Player, a Superstar.

 

 

Love made a hook shot that tied the game at 109 with a minute to play, it was a game…..again. 

A controversial foul was called after Jeremy Lamb attempted to jump over Brewer’s head in pursuit of a rebound. It was Brewer’s sixth foul, disqualifying him from the remainder of the game, and Lamb was awarded two FT’s — he hit both. Love tried to answer and was fouled making a layup on the next possession, but he would miss a FT that would have gave the Wolves a one-point lead. After a Durant step-back the Thunder went up two-points, but the Wolves had time for one final play.

After Perkins suffered a mental lapse and fouled Love behind the 3pt-line, the Wolves Superstar had a chance to win or tie the game with three attempts at the FT line. He missed the first, the second and intentionally missed the third — Durant grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made two FT’s and the game was over. The Wolves lost a game decided by four-or-less points for the ninth time this season.

Three Stars

  1. Kevin Durant — 48 points, 23 in the fourth-quarter and an MVP type of performance
  2. Nikola Pekovic — 31 points and 11 rebounds playing 38 minutes. I think he’s playing a lot of minutes, and it scares me, but he’s helping Love carry the load this season.
  3. Kevin Love — 30 points, 5 of 9 on 3pt-attempts but missed FT’s in the final minute, costing the Wolves the game.

Takeaways

 

Shabazz Muhammad was officially assigned to the D-League, this is a positive thing for his development, but, here’s my problem. I don’t attend the practices I haven’t seen much of the Wolves first round selection (a small sample size). Adelman and Flip Saunders believe playing with the Iowa Energy is what’s best for ‘Bazz’.

The Wolves bench scored five points. When AP style prevents me from typing numbers when talking about the bench production — this is a problem. When I say bench, I meant Barea because he scored all of the aforementioned bench points. That’s the second time this week the bench managed to only score five points, all of them coming from Barea.

The assignment for Muhammad signifies the return of Ronnie Turiaf and Chase Budinger are imminent. How close? We’re still not exactly sure. My guess is they return to welcome Derrick Williams and the Sacramento Kings on the 17th, three days removed after a road game in San Antonio. That’s just a guess. The staff is either confident in what Budinger will bring to the second-unit, or Muhammad is not ready, or not good enough, to play at an NBA level.

The Wolves are 29th in the league, second to last, in bench scoring (23ppg). It’s a scary thought that Shabazz, who averaged 23.2 pace adjusted points per game in one season at UCLA, isn’t capable of helping the abysmal rotation players.

Also, rim protection. These are opponents shooting percentages at the rim when defended by the following players.

  • Robbie Hummel — 62.9%
  • Dante Cunningham — 63.3%
  • Kevin Love — 58.8%
  • Nikola Pekovic — 59.3%

Let’s compare

  • Roy Hibbert — 41.4%
  • DeAndre Jordan — 53.4%
  • Serge Ibaka — 44.6%
  • Tim Duncan — 46.4%
  • Wes Johnson — 53%
  • Marcin Gortat — 51.8%

See a problem? The Wolves don’t have a rim protector. Gorgui Dieng continues to sit on the bench because he’s not ready to play at the NBA level, just like Muhammad. Will Turiaf’s return make a difference, we’ll see. It’s a little alarming that these players have a profile that fits the Wolves needs, but aren’t being played to fulfill them.

These close game recaps aren’t fun to write.

 

zb.