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Thunder 149, Wolves 140

by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 24, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s double overtime win over Minnesota.

  • What. A. Game.
  • This has to be the best game of the year…in the entire league!
  • Thunder forward Kevin Durant: “That’s going to be a game that’s going to be played for a little while.”
  • Thunder guard Russell Westbrook: “It’s fun, man. It’s one of those games you kind of just live for and try to have a good time.”
  • Thunder guard James Harden: “It was definitely fun and exciting. It took too long, but I think all the guys are happy, especially us. We came away with the victory.”
  • Wolves guard J.J. Barea: “That was an awesome game to be a part of.”
  • Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “I’m sure the fans and the players enjoyed it more than me.”
  • The Wolves started the game with two favorable matchups: Kendrick Perkins on Kevin Love and Serge Ibaka guarding Derrick Williams. And what does Minnesota do on its first possession? Run some action for Martell Webster, of course. And when the Thunder snuffed it out, forcing Webster to pass, he turned it over on a silly pass. Naturally, on the very next possession, the Wolves went to the other side of the court and tried to free up Wesley Johnson with an off-ball screen. Again, turnover.
  • Once Minnesota stopped fooling around finally went to Love, you saw why the matchup was so tough on the Thunder. The guy is an absolute monster. The best power forward in the league, I’d say. He took Perk out to the 3-point line, just as we thought he would, and knocked down three straight 3s. Then, Love followed up on that by going inside to do what he does best, getting an offensive rebound and putback. That three-minute stretch set the tone for the rest of the game. It helped Love get comfortable and find his rhythm early. Once he did, there was no stopping him.
  • Love finished with a career-high 51 points on 16-of-27 shooting to go with 14 rebounds in 49 minutes. He made 7-of-11 3-pointers and 12-of-16 foul shots. Love’s 51 set a new Thunder opponent individual high this season, besting the 48 former Warriors guard Monta Ellis scored on Feb. 7.
  • Love on his career night: “Doesn’t matter now with the loss.”
  • Westbrook also had a career-high, finishing with 45 points on 17-of-28 shooting to go along with six assists and four rebounds in 50 minutes. Westbrook scored nine of his 45 in the second overtime and was the catalyst in the Thunder putting a nail in the Wolves’ coffin.
  • Here are Westbrook’s biggest plays from the final 2 1/2 minutes of regulation on.
    1. A 3-pointer to beat the shot clock buzzer with 1:41 left in regulation. Thunder 113, Wolves 108.
    2. A floater with 2:09 left in the first overtime. Thunder 122, Wolves 122.
    3. A huge offensive rebound and a jumper in the lane with 36 seconds left in the first overtime. Wolves 129, Thunder 126.
    4. A three-point play with 4:45 left in the second overtime. Thunder 132, Wolves 129.
    5. A coast-to-coast layup with 4:01 left in the second overtime. Thunder 136, Wolves 131.
    6. A backdoor layup with 2:37 left in the second overtime. Thunder 140, Wolves 136.
    7. A fast break dunk with 1:15 left in the second overtime. Thunder 144, Wolves 138.
  • Durant in a word tonight: clutch. He finished with 40 points and made big shot after big shot first to keep the Wolves at bay, and then to keep the Thunder in it. KD added 17 rebounds (one shy of a career high) and five assists in 52 minutes.
  • Here are Durant’s biggest plays from the final 2 1/2 minutes of regulation on.
    1. A jumper off a curl with 2:21 left in regulation. Thunder 110, Wolves 106.
    2. A crossover and stepback 3 from the top of the key with 3.9 seconds left in regulation. Thunder 116, Wolves 113.
    3. A great show in help defense, sliding over and forcing Love into a traveling violation with 16.1 seconds left in the first overtime. Wolves 129, Thunder 126.
    4. A 3 from the right corner over Love with 10.1 seconds left in the first overtime. Thunder 129, Wolves 129.
    5. The Dirk with 1:34 left in double overtime. Thunder 142, Wolves 138.
    6. A pair of free throws with 55 seconds left in the second overtime. Thunder 146, Wolves 138.
    7. A steal against Love with 51.9 seconds left in the second overtime. Thunder 146, Wolves 138.
  • Out of Durant’s biggest plays listed above, I’m going with No. 3 as the biggest. It might have just been the play of the game. If Durant doesn’t slide over and scare Love into shuffling his feet, the Wolves win this game.
  • Once again, you witnessed history, Thunder heads. With KD and Russ both finishing with at least 40 points tonight, it marked the first time in NBA history that a pair of teammates both scored at least 40 points twice in the same game in a single season. The other game was that overtime classic against Denver last month.
  • Why not foul Love at the end of regulation? The Wolves had to inbound the ball with 3.9 seconds left, and if the Thunder fouled before a shot attempt to put Minnesota on the line to shoot two this game could have ended much earlier. Said Brooks: “They’re going to catch-and-shoot in the same motion. And players know that. Players are good at that because they have some practice and experience with it. I wouldn’t have done it at that time. But there’s a time probably at the seven second or above mark that we would consider that.”
  • I understand Brooks’ explanation. It makes sense. I still would have fouled. Love hit an incredible shot that couldn’t have had more than a 20 percent chance of going in. But one thing I never understand is why defensive players don’t read in react in those situations like they do throughout the rest of the game on both ends. If a guy doesn’t immediately go up, wrap him up. That simple. Love didn’t immediately go up, so there wouldn’t have been a four-point play opportunity. But, as I said, it was an incredibly low-percentage shot, so I don’t mind living with it.
  • The Thunder’s resiliency in this one was incredible. Each time the Wolves got close late, the Thunder answered to keep them at bay. And when the Wolves went up by five with 46.3 seconds left in the first overtime, the Thunder just battled and got it right back.
  • Said Brooks of his team’s resiliency: “We all know that’s how our team plays. They never give up. They always play to the final second of the game. I thought we did that tonight.”
  • Said Westbrook of these nail-biters: “We’ve been in so many situations like this before that I think we know how to handle them. And I think we’re doing a good job of being patient, not rushing our sets and just closing out games.
  • Possibly the most underrated thing about tonight’s game will be how Westbrook kept his composure throughout the night on Barea. You’ve got to give it up to Westbrook for keeping his cool and just playing without getting caught up in the matchup or the physicality or the history or the flopping or whatever. That’s two straight big-time performances by Russ.
  • Harden had a big game with 25 points, six assists and six rebounds. In the last 12 minutes of the game, it was his passing that really gave the Thunder a lift. He had three huge assists (feeding KD on that curl, firing a bullet pass to Westbrook on that backdoor layup and making a pinpoint pass to KD in the corner for the game-tying 3 at the end of the first OT) and a nice driving layup that put OKC up three early in the second overtime.
  • Brooks deserves a lot of credit for the play he drew up at the end of the first OT. Generally, the Thunder puts the ball in Durant’s hands and waits for him to make a play. This time, Brooks ran Durant off a back screen and allowed Harden to make the perfect pass for the shot.
  • Can’t say enough about Nick Collison for the screen he set on Anthony Tolliver to free Durant on that corner 3. He took Tolliver right out of the play, and when Love was a step slow in rotating it allowed KD to bury it.
  • Luke Ridnour takes some of the dumbest shots.
  • Our man Berry Tramel says this was not Brooks’ finest hour. The thing I thought was Brooks’ most egregious error was sticking with Perk on Love. As I’ve said, the hot start got Love rolling. But Brooks refused to change it up. On two occasions Friday, Brooks was asked if he’d have to limit Perk’s minutes. Both times, Brooks vowed to stick to his game plan and the way he wants to play. In the end, it backfired.
  • Here’s the thing, though. A lot of us are dying to see the day when the Thunder sets the tone, dictates tempo and consistently forces opponents to play its style. Brooks tried to do that tonight and he gets barbequed. Tough job.
  • Now about Derek Fisher. Man, homeboy couldn’t buy a bucket tonight. He started the game 0-for-8 and finished 2-for-11. I loved that he kept shooting. I’d worry about a guy who didn’t have enough confidence to keep shooting if he’s open. It’s just that every time Fish let it go, he dug the Thunder a deeper hole. None of his misses were worse than the two jumpers he misfired on in back-to-back possessions inside the final minute and a half of regulation. The worse part of both were that Durant created a wide open baseline jumper for him on one possession, and Westbrook drove and dished to create a wide open 3 on the next. After those two misses, and a Westbrook turnover, the Wolves tied it at 113.
  • Outside of missing shots, I didn’t think Fish was bad tonight. But he wasn’t great. And unless he is, there’s absolutely no reason for Fish to play 36 minutes at this point in his career.
  • Brooks revealed after the game that he would like to keep Thabo Sefolosha around 20 minutes, up from 15. That partially explains why Fish played so much.
  • Here’s the another part of it. “You’re caught in that position where, do you keep staying with him or do you put in a  body that’s not warm or not loose?” Brooks said.
  • And here’s the final part to it. To keep up with the Wolves’ small ball, Brooks had to alter his rotation. He played Westbrook and Fisher together late in the first quarter to match up with Barea and Ridnour. Fisher replaced Perkins in the first and third quarters instead of Westbrook at the two-minute mark. That got Fish a few e xtra minutes tonight, too.
  • Harden’s two-man game with Collison was a thing of beauty in the first half. After Harden had knocked down three 3s, Webster starting cheating and playing tighter to try to jump the pass. As soon as he did, Harden faked toward the ball and cut backdoor for an easy layup. Simple basketball, yet Harden is so, so good at it.
  • Webster’s momma needs to tell him to cut his hair.
  • Lazar Hayward again got minutes that typically go to Daequan Cook off the bench. Zar had a nice corner 3 off a feed from Harden early, but then missed his next three shots and didn’t do much else.
  • The ball movement in the first half was terrific. The Thunder had 16 first-half assists and scored 63 first-half points. Five Thunder players had at least two assists in the first half.
  • More impressively, the Thunder had just two first-half turnovers. OKC did such a great job of taking care of the ball early that the first giveaway didn’t come until 17 1/2 minutes had passed. It came when KD was stripped while trying to use an escape dribble despite playing in a crowd under the basket.
  • The Thunder finished with 24 assists. That makes OKC 17-3 when getting at least 20 assists.
  • Lost in this game was how good the Thunder’s big men were again at the start of this game. Perk ended up recorded double figures in scoring tonight with 12 points to go along with five rebounds. It’s the third time this season that Perk’s scored at least 10 points.
  • Perk’s screens also got Westbrook and others a ton of great looks in the first half.
  • Ibaka was an animal on the offensive glass. He had five rebounds, three offensive, in the first half despite playing just 12 minutes, and he finished with nine boards in 25 minutes. Ibaka was turning his offensive boards into easy putbacks, too, while also being a presence by blocking shots at the other end.
  • For as good as Ibaka was early, there was no way he should have been on Love late. Brooks said he only re-inserted him at the start of the first overtime to win the jump ball and spell Collison for a bit. Next time, stick with Collison.
  • I thought it was a good sign that Sefolosha returned to his role of inbounding the ball tonight. Brooks re-inserted him with one second left to try to win it after Love’s 3 just before the end of regulation. It didn’t matter. The Wolves defended the play well and forced KD into a desperation 3 that Love contested wonderfully. But if you remember, Brooks went with Harden as the inbounder against San Antonio instead of using Sefolosha and Harden threw the ball away.
  • These teams combined to take 213 shots tonight! The Thunder’s big three — KD, Russ and Harden — was 42-for-71 from the field.
  • Love shot as many free throws (16) as Durant and Westbrook combined.
  • In the end, this was another character-building game. The defense wasn’t any good. But the Thunder found a way to win yet another close game while playing yet another style for the majority of the night. Tonight’s experience is a great one to have filed away in the memory bank come playoff time.
  • Up next. Miami on Sunday.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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