Thunder 118, Wolves 117
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win at Minnesota.
- At halftime, I had no idea what I was going to write off of this game for Thursday’s paper. At the end of the third quarter, I still had no clue. My game story ended up being 805 words, 200 of which I’d be surprised if they see the light of day on your doorstep (space constraints). That tells you how good of a finish this was.
- Kevin Durant was simply awesome. He came within three points and two rebounds of scoring 50 with 20 boards. When is the last time that happened?
- Durant said after the game that he was upset at himself with his scoreless fourth quarter at New Orleans and wanted to help his team out better tonight down the stretch. That he did. He had 16 points in both the third and fourth quarters and had four of the team’s eight overtime points.
- Scott Brooks decided to revert to running Durant off screens tonight, the biggest reason Durant was so successful. It was a good call. Durant could catch and shoot with ease as his defenders trailed and struggled to close ground.
- I might be in the minority here, but I still think the Brooks should continue to put the ball in Durant’s hands and let his playmaking skills develop. It’s a must for Durant to reach his full potential. KD is not Ray Allen. His ceiling is closer to Kobe Bryant. And for that ceiling to be reached, Durant’s got to be able to do more than just catch and shoot.
- Once again, this win covered up a whole lot of bad. And I mean a whole lot. There was no energy for 2 1/2 quarters. No defense. Ugly offense. Too many turnovers. And selfish play. One number tells the story of how crummy the Thunder played early. Six. OKC never led by more than six. Minnesota, mind you, loses games by an average margin of nearly six. The Wolves’ minus-5.88 point differential is the third worst in the league. Said Nick Collison: “It’s kind of similar to how a lot of games have gone this year. We locked in late and really defended a lot differently than we had the majority of the game…We were fortunate to win this one for sure.”
- The most impressive thing in Durant’s scoring performance? His final 16 points either pulled the Thunder to a tie or gave his team the lead. The next time you’re considering whether Durant is clutch, do yourselves a favor and look at this game. Don’t just focus on game-winning opportunities.
- Durant’s 18 rebounds set a new career-high. He had 15 last year against the Clippers in L.A. It was the second time in three games that Durant has grabbed at least 12 rebounds and the fourth time in five games that he’s snared at least eight. Durant told me after the game that he’s been focused more on rebounding, and his goal is to get four in the first quarter and go from there. “I’m just running in there trying to get them,” Durant said. “In college, I was a good rebounder and I wanted to bring that to the league. I think my first two seasons I got away from it. Last year, I did better, and this year I’m trying to do a little better as well.”
- It’s funny how players can go into autopilot during interviews. Right after that informative answer, Durant continued with, “I think I did a decent job tonight. I could do better.” Dude, you had 18 rebounds!!!
- Jeff Green deserves a lot of credit for his performance tonight. Michael Beasley and Kevin Love combined for 61 points and 30 rebounds, and Green defended them both, I know. But Green wasn’t the only one on those two tonight. And Green’s offensive contributions were key. His runner over three Wolves defenders with 4.3 seconds left in regulation forced overtime and served as the latest in a string of clutch plays. Green’s eight boards and three assists were big as well.
- Russell Westbrook had about two nice plays early in the first quarter. And then he was out of control from there. Not sure what got into him tonight. But young fella’s got to settle down. He had three early first quarter turnovers and finished with a game-high eight. Westbrook’s eight giveaways tied his season-high. He’s turned it over eight times on two other occasions, but he hasn’t done it since Nov. 29.
- Westbrook’s pull-up jumper also can be a gift and a curse for the Thunder. He’s been hitting it at a better rate this year, but he falls in love with it at times and forces it without allowing the offense to manufacture a better option.
- Some questions about why Serge Ibaka didn’t play more tonight. My guess is that if he had to defend Michael Beasley or Kevin Love, they would have eaten him up on the perimeter.
- Funny moment with 8:28 left in the third quarter. Love and Darko Milicic both came down with their hands on the ball on a defensive rebound. The two stood there for a second, almost staring each other down to suggest that the other let it go. Love finally was the bigger man, allowing Darko to get credit for the board. And the crowd responded with some light boos. Love, meanwhile, looked over at the bench and took a bow, swamping his hands back and forth behind his back as he jogged up court. Final rebound count: Love 21, Darko 4.
- The free throw game was strange tonight. It saved the Thunder, though, that’s for sure. The Thunder went 26-for-27 from the stripe. The Wolves went 18-for-25 at the foul line. Luke Ridnour, who entered the game as a 92.4 percent foul shooter, missed two tonight. Ridnour’s second miss, with 12.2 seconds remaining in regulation, allowed the Thunder to force overtime. Rather than extending the Wolves’ lead to 111-108, Ridnour left it as a two-point game. And that allowed the Thunder to not have to worry about going for 3. It led to Green’s game-tying hoop. And of course it’s quite possible that if Corey Brewer made his second free throw with 7.6 seconds remaining in overtime, this game would have gone into a second OT.
- That was an ugly session of overtime. The teams combined for seven turnovers. How does that happen in five minutes?
- There were 21 ties and 19 lead changes in this one.
- The Wolves dropped to 0-9 in the Northwest Division. That really doesn’t make a difference at this point, but I’m sure the Thunder players (and fans) didn’t want to be Minnesota’s first victim.
- Durant didn’t sit in the second half or overtime, the only player on either team not to. KD’s 49 minutes, 50 seconds were a game high. And Durant said he still was ready to go into a second overtime if things ended up going that way. “It was so fun,” Durant said. The crowd was into it. Our bench was into it. Their bench was. Just play after play. As a player, your adrenaline starts to pump and you start to get more energy from that. So I could have played. I could have played three or four more.”
- How gorgeous was Durant’s step-back jumper that ended up being the game-winner with 28.3 seconds left? Thing. Of. Beauty.
- For the first time, Brooks said on the record that Love is an All-Star. Brooks recently has had fun debating, or at least listening to a debate about Love’s credentials, with media members. “He’s an All-Star,” Brooks said. “He’s an All-Star. That’s all I can say. He’s an All-Star.” I guess when 31 points and 21 comes against your team it makes you come around.
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