Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Oklahoma City Thunder 127

RickyrubioGame Summary

Coming off of a win Wednesday night at home against Philadelphia, the Timberwolves traveled to Oklahoma City to take on a league powerhouse in the Thunder.  As an added bonus, the Wolves were back on national television to kickoff ESPN’s Friday night doubleheader.  Unfortunately for those that don’t follow the Wolves closely, they are seeing half of a finished product.  Friday night was not much different as the Wolves found themselves down early and were never able to recover.

The Thunder got off to a hot start, going 8-11 from the field to start the game.  This led to an early 18-11 lead over the Wolves going into the first timeout of the game.  Ricky Rubio picked up two early fouls and was already on the bench prior to the timeout.  At the end of the 1st quarter, the Thunder held a ten point lead (33-23) and the game was not looking very promising for the Pups.

Aside from Rubio’s foul trouble, Derrick Williams finished the quarter 0-5 from the field, missing two 3 pointers and a few layups at the rim.  Russell Westbrook led the Thunder to the fast start, finishing the quarter with 11 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.  If you were looking for a silver lining, Kevin Durant was struggling from the field, only 1-4 from the field and finishing the quarter with 6 points.

In the 2nd quarter the Pups received several strong performances from their second unit, including; JJ Barea, Cunningham, Stiemsma, and Shved.  While the defensive effort didn’t improve much, at least the team was able to compete offensively and keep the game in striking distance.  At the end of the half, the Wolves cut the Thunder lead to 5 points and then Luke Ridnour pulled another bonehead play with the clock ticking down, fouling Russell Westbrook on a 3 pointer.  Westbrook hit all three free throws to give the Thunder a 66-58 lead going into the half.

Here are several halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • The Wolves second unit were the only reason they were in the game as the starters were shooting a woeful 7-25 from the field
  • Derrick Williams was the main ‘contributor’ to these shooting problems, throwing up a 1-8 from the field, including a number of blown layups
  • The ESPN crew ripped apart the moves David Kahn has made over the past few years during their halftime show – and I found myself agreeing with them in many cases, which just made it that much more annoying

The 3rd quarter could easily be described as a quarter of runs.  The Thunder increased their lead to 17 points, the Wolves cut it back to 8, and then the Thunder responded to increase the lead back to 17 points to close the quarter.  It was not a defensive struggle in Oklahoma City Friday night, as the home team held a 100-83 lead going into the final frame.  Unfortunately for the Pups, Kevin Durant got hot in the 3rd quarter, leading to a strong feeling of doubt that the Wolves had much of a chance of making a comeback.

The 4th quarter mentally felt like extreme “gah-bage” time, even though you could easily make an argument that the Wolves were technically in the game.  A quick kudos to Ricky Rubio who continued to run all over the court in an effort to pick up a quick steal, create a turnover, etc.  Outside of this effort, there really wasn’t too much to talk about – evidenced by the lack of game insight the ESPN crew were providing at the same time.  The final score of Friday’s game was a 127-111 victory for the Thunder.  The Wolves actually never held an advantage in the game.

Keys of the Game

  • Talent – This probably sounds pompous, but the Wolves just do not have the star power that the Thunder have.  Durant and Westbrook simply brought it on Friday night and took full advantage of the depleted Wolves.
  • Shutting down Pek – Coming off of a huge performance Wednesday night, Pekovic couldn’t get anything established for himself vs. Kendrick Perkins, and even to a lesser extent, against Hasheem Thabeet.  In 22 minutes, Pek had 5 points on 1-4 shooting with 2 rebounds.
  • The shooter’s touch – As a team, the Thunder were absolutely lights-out Friday night: 58% from the field, 64% from 3PT range, and a perfect 22-22 from the FT line.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Russell Westbrook – Westbrook aided in getting Rubio into early foul trouble and took over the game from that point.  He finished with 37 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists.
  2. Kevin Durant – Despite the slow 1st half, Durant finished the game strong to reach “his numbers” – 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists of his own.
  3. Kevin Martin – This could have gone to Rubio, but with the “blowout” loss, it didn’t feel right to give this to a Pup.  Martin was extremely efficient coming off the bench with 17 points on 7-11 FG’s.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 2/22/13

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

The Timberwolves travel to Oklahoma City on Friday night to take on the defending Western Conference champion Thunder.  Minnesota comes into the game off of a victory against Philadelphia Wednesday night to move their record to 20-31 on the season.  The Thunder come into Friday’s game off a loss to the Rockets in Houston the same night, dropping their record to 39-15.

While these two teams are heading in very different directions this season, they tend to match-up well against one another and always seem to be enjoyable games to watch.  That wasn’t necessarily the case when Minnesota traveled to OKC on 1/9, as they were blown out of the building, 106-84.  This could have been a product of the Thunder returning the favor for their loss at the Target Center on 12/20.

A quick note about the trade deadline from Thursday – the Wolves made exactly zero moves to their roster and I have to say that I am not disappointed.  Derrick Williams can only help his trade value from now until the 2013 draft.  The team isn’t good enough to push Ridnour or Barea off to someone else for a short term rental (since we aren’t making the playoffs this season).  Finally, a semi-kudos to the team for not making a salary dump move to save a few dollars in Glen Taylor’s wallet.  Net/net, this team will be very active again this summer and has a full stock of assets to leverage.

While the Wolves stood pat, the Thunder made two minor moves that probably make them a bit stronger for the playoffs.  In separate trades, they sent Eric Maynor to the Blazers for a trade exception and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks for a 2nd round pick.  (I wonder if James Harden’s explosion Wednesday night aided their desire to make this move and get a little bigger in the back court.)

Oklahoma City remains a powerhouse in the Western Conference and have high aspirations come playoff time.  Led by perennial all-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team will look to work its way through the Western Conference and once again challenge for the NBA Championship.  Anything less is likely to be seen as a disappointment to fans.

With that mindset, this preview has been done in conjunction with the ‘Welcome to Loud City’ blog on SB Nation.  Here are the questions that we posed to J.A. Sherman from the team’s blog.  He passed along a few Wolves-related questions as well, and you can find those questions and our answers on their site.

Here’s were my questions for Trey …

Thunder Question #1 for Trey:

As a fan of the Thunder, can you please explain the mindset of “championship or bust” to us Wolves fans, who have been continuously tortured since 1989?  Do these expectations make the games easier or harder to watch regularly?  Would you consider anything less than a conference championship a failure? 

Trey:

As a Thunder fan, it’s certainly nice to have “championship or bust expectations.” It’s like being the Yankees of the NBA and the team has only been in the city since 2008. It makes the game easier to watch because you’re always dissecting the team’s play, no matter the opponent. Even if they’re on top for most of the game, it’s still fun to see what Durant and Westbrook are going to do next. Of course there are blowouts and nobody likes watching 48 minutes of a 20-point game, but it’s worth the price for 50-win seasons and Finals appearances.

This season, anything less than a conference championship would have to be considered a disappointment. I doubt there is anybody in the organization that feels any other way. After taking the step last year with their WCF win over San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder would be satisfied with anything less. They’ve got the same two stars and although they sent Harden to Houston, Kevin Martin is still a good enough scorer to give them substantial firepower off the bench.  

 Thunder Question #2 for Trey:

Is there a particular weakness for the Thunder and/or do you fear that there might be something in the current construction of the team that could be exploited down the stretch and in the playoffs?  Coming off Harden’s performance Wednesday, does an elite wing worry you?

Trey:

I think one thing that showed up against Houston and also against the Heat before the All-Star Game is the fact Oklahoma City has problems running their offense while down late in games. I think it becomes too much Durant and Westbrook one-on-one rather than finding a good shot every possession. People tend to blame Westbrook because he’s the point guard. However, it’s just as much Durant’s fault. They both tend to force shots when the team is trailing late. Could a team in the West exploit this? I don’t think so because I’m not sure the Spurs or Clippers can develop big leads against the Thunder and force them into those one-on-one situations.

Well, if you consider LeBron James a wing, which I do, then I would be extremely worried. Harden and LeBron are obviously different players with much different arsenals and Harden is great, but in a seven-game series I’m not worried about him taking over for four victories. However, LeBron has dominated the Thunder this season. They don’t have an answer for him right now and unless newly acquired Ronnie Brewer can give him problems, the Heat could be looking at a second straight Finals victory over the Thunder.

 Thunder Question #3 for Trey:

Rather than ask you a question about Durant or Westbrook, let’s go deep into the rotation.  What are your thoughts on Hasheem Thabeet?  Do you think he has a long term future in the league?  Is there a light bulb there that might go off?  Finally, how would you grade his (limited) performance thus far?  

Trey:

I’m not sure Hasheem Thabeet has a long-term home in Oklahoma City, but he is putting up better numbers than last year’s backup center Nazr Mohammed. He seems to be a popular player in the locker room and usually give Scott Brooks quality minutes, but it’s hard to see him developing into much more than a 10-12 minutes kind of player.

I would give him a B so far this season. Like I said, he’s outplayed Mohammed’s production from a year ago, but with his size and frame you would think he could have more of an impact every night. Unless the Thunder moves Kendrick Perkins for somebody with more of an offensive game in the future, I can’t see the Thunder hanging on to Thabeet. This is already his fourth team since being drafted No. 2 overall by the Grizzlies in 2009 and I doubt it’s his last.

 

To see our Pups-related Q&A, please click here.

We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and the Thunder.  Again, you can read more from J.A. at the Welcome to Loud City blog or follow them on Twitter.  As always, you can read more from John on Twitter.

Minnesota Timberwolves 84 – Oklahoma City Thunder 106

Photo Credit: (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Photo Credit: (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Game Summary

Facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves hoped to start 2-0 against the defending Western Conference Champions playing in a sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena. Once again without head coach Rick Adelman who has missed the previous two games due to personal reasons, the T-wolves simply lacked the star power to gain any sort of control in this game, and fell by a score of 106-84.

With word coming out that Kevin Love will indeed require surgery to repair his broken right hand and will most likely miss between 8 and 10 weeks, the Wolves will now rest their hopes for making the playoffs in a successful return from Ricky Rubio. Rubio appears to be improving his conditioning as of late and did a much better job of staying in front of OKC PG Russell Westbrook than he did the previous time these two teams met. While he did not score a point on 0-3 shooting, Rubio dished out 7 assists in 22 minutes while turning the ball over twice.

JJ Barea was a late scratch due to back spasms, and Luke Ridnour was forced to assume a larger role despite an unfavorable matchup against Westbrook. Ridnour, who has had a miserable time shooting the ball this season, noticeably lacks the quickness he once had and is too often settling for contested jump-shots when he chooses to shoot. His decision-making has been questionable this season, and the Wolves really miss having Rubio be able to play entire games, especially fourth quarters. In 31 minutes, Ridnour had 11 points on 4-9 shooting while turning the ball over 3 times.

With strong play as of late, Derrick Williams was rewarded with 28 minutes of playing time but struggled to get in a groove against a tough defensive frontcourt. Although he recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds, Williams was -23 on the floor and had a very tough time finishing at the rim with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins defending the basket. The thing that I was most frustrated with was the D-Will attempted only 1 three-point attempt in his 15 shots, and I believe that his three-point shooting will be vital to the Wolves’ success if they are to make a legitimate run at the playoffs.

Keys to the Game 

  • Turnovers – OKC 12, MN 19: The turnover battle was essential for OKC controlling the game, as Minnesota was never able to effectively get into a rhythm in the half court offense. Russell Westbrook, who averages 3.5 turnovers per game this season, committed only 1 turnover in 30 minutes of play and did a very good job securing the basketball. While we are so often used to seeing Westbrook drive the lane out of control and turning the ball over, he was very smart about deciding when to drive and when to dump off to a teammate. For the Pups, the primary scapegoat was Alexey Shved, who scored 18 points but turned the ball over a game-high 7 times in 39 minutes. One thing that Shved has to pay particular attention to is not leaving his feet before making passes, as it makes him increasingly vulnerable to turnovers which usually lead to transition buckets for the opposing team. On the pick-and-roll, he needs to keep the ball lower and tighter to his body in order to effectively fend off ball swipers on the perimeter, especially because he does not yet have the strength to overpower most of his defenders.
  • Three-point Shooting – OKC 11-20, MN 3-13: Nothing new here with the Pups shooting woes from long range. All 3 thee-pointers were knocked down by either one of the two Russian imports, and Minnesota’s best three-point shooter, Derrick Williams, attempted only 1 three-pointer in this game. Missing Love, Barea and Budinger certainly removes most of the Pups ability to shoot threes, but the lack of perimeter shooting by Ridnour this season is very unsettling. Much of Luke’s role on this team for the past two seasons relied on his ability to knock down open three-pointers, but he has been an absolute non-factor from the perimeter this season as shown by his 31% rate from downtown. For OKC, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 5-8 from beyond the arc and Minnesota defenders did not do a good enough job of closing out and contesting shots. Kevin Martin also knocked down 4 of his 7 tries off the bench after missing OKC’s previous matchup against the Wolves.
  • Fast Break Points – OKC 23, MN 8: The Thunder capitalized on Minnesota’s turnovers by scoring 23 points in transition, and Durant and Westbrook are simply unstoppable when running the floor on fast breaks. When you shoot yourself in the foot as many times as the Pups did, it is very difficult to win when you have two of the best players in the NBA running the floor in 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 situations.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Russell Westbrook – Russ was nearly perfect tonight, controlling the OKC offense while taking over the scoring duties when opportunities presented themselves to him. Needing to play only 30 minutes in the blowout victory, Westbrook scored 23 points on 7-14 shooting (3-4 3FG) while tallying 8 rebounds and 7 assists, he turned the ball over just once and was a game-high +22 on the floor. 
  2. Kevin Durant – He’s lean, he’s mean, he’s KD! OKC’s original superstar gave the fans plenty to cheer about with 26 points on 10-17 shooting (2-4 3FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks and 3 turnovers. Since the departure of James Harden, both Durant and Westbrook have expanded their games and are doing a little more of everything this season. KD did a great job against one of the top perimeter defenders in Andrei Kirilenko, knocking down seemingly every open look he got tonight and stopping any momentum that the Wolves tried gaining.
  3. Nikola Pekovic – Big Pek is turning into Mr. Consistency this season and despite playing with an injured hip notched another double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds (5 offensive). Nikola converted on 6 of his 10 shot attempts, while the Pups did a very poor job of finding him on the low block. At this point, in order for the Wolves to be at their best they are going to need to flow the offense through Pekovic in the low post and initiate the offense with his scoring in the paint. This means more lateral ball movement to the weak-side to allow lane penetration and quick dump offs to Pek waiting on the block.

 

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 12/20/12

KD & KLSetting the stage:

The Timberwolves return to the Target Center off of a largely unsuccessful trip to Florida and back-to-back road losses against the Magic and Heat.  Nothing really changed during the trip; the team continued to rebound the ball well but their season long struggles in outside shooting, free throw shooting, and missing players as they recover from injury all continued.  Ricky Rubio is expected to play tonight for the Wolves and he’ll be needed against the defending Western Conference champions.  One other key for the Wolves tonight will need to be the resurgence of Alexey Shved.  I’m not sure if he enjoyed the warm weather or Florida, or maybe he enjoyed it too much, but Shved is coming off of two weak performances that the team can’t afford him to have.

The Thunder come into Thursday’s game as the hottest team in the league and winners of 12 straight, putting their record at 21-4 on the year.  They are the league’s #1 team in scoring, averaging 105.6 ppg and are 9th in team defense allowing 96.1 ppg.  After pulling off the biggest trade of the offseason by moving James Harden for Kevin Martin (with other pieces involved) the Thunder are relying more heavily on Durant and Westbrook and they have done nothing but answer the call.  Durant is third in the league in scoring at 27.7 ppg and is averaging 8.5 rbg to boot.  Westbrook is averaging 21.1 ppg and is fifth in the league in assists at 8.8 per game.

Player to watch:

Kevin Durant – In the interest of not throwing a monkey wrench into another key member of the Twolves roster this week, I’m picking an opponent.  I don’t think there is really much to say about Durant though.  All you have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy.  He’s the most prolific scorer in the game and he’s going to be for a very long time.  If KD throws up an 8-27 evening and the Wolves win, I would like an iota of credit.  If he gets hurt, this entire paragraph never happened.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Russell Westbrook.  Rubio had a few days of rest since Monday’s game in Orlando.  Hopefully he is ready to play 20 or so minutes tonight and do so effectively.  He has shown that flair in the passing game that everyone fell in love with, but also turned the ball over a few too many times in Orlando.  Several of those looked like plays where he and a teammate were just a little out of sync and something that should be corrected over the coming weeks.  Rubio’s defense will be needed in order to try to contain Westbrook.  It is long documented here on how poorly the Pups’ PG’s have been playing defensively in the first quarter of the season.

Predictions:

The nation is watching the Pups for the second time this week and this one is at the Target Center.  I hope the stadium is rocking for tonight’s game.  At full strength, the Wolves make this a very competitive matchup and series.  Despite their injuries, I’m going to say the Wolves play inspired ball and wear down the Thunder in the second half to squeak out a win.  As an added bonus, the win would give the Pups the @ChampsBelt.  (A great follow for NBA history.)

Final score prediction: Twolves 110, Thunder 106

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!