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Thunder 104, Wolves 100

by Darnell Mayberry Published: December 27, 2011

Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s 104-100 win at Minnesota.

  • Kendrick Perkins stole the show. That was hard to do tonight for anyone on the Thunder not named Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or James Harden. But Perk again made his presence felt in ways that showed up in the stat sheet and in ways that didn’t. His defense on Darko Milicic was outstanding and his rebounding helped the Thunder control the glass against a tremendous offensive rebounding team. And of course the free throws at the end were what iced this one.
  • Three things you need to know about Perk’s game-clinching foul shots. 1) He intentionally didn’t pass to Durant after grabbing the defensive rebound with 3.8 seconds left because he wanted to seal the win. 2) He made the shots with a sprained right wrist he sustained in the first quarter. 3) He stepped to the line thinking of the post-practice free throw game the Thunder plays at the end of each session.
  • Perk told me his wrist is fine. He should be a go at Memphis on Wednesday. But the way he sprained it is worth noting. It happened when Perk and Wolves center Darko Milicic mixed it up and Darko pushed Perk to the floor. Perk injured the wrist while bracing his fall. The most interesting part of that exchange came when Perk stared up at Darko and nodded his head like ‘Bring it.’ Darko stood his ground and nodded right back with a smile. And then Darko had the nerve to walk up on Perk and keep it going. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had no idea Darko had a little crazy in him.
  • I don’t care what the Wolves’ record shows at the end of the season. This was a heck of a road win. Wolves fans were loud and into the game the entire night. And they know their basketball. For the Thunder to come into a hostile environment and knock off a team playing passionately in their home opener says two things: the Thunder is road tough, and OKC again knows it needs to beat the teams its supposed to beat.
  • Make what you will of the offense tonight. Three players scored 74 percent of the Thunder’s points. I’m going to take the glass half full approach and say it’s a good thing when the Thunder can do that and still walk out of somebody else’s building with a win. Not sure that’ll fly in, say, San Antonio. But for tonight, it worked.
  • Durant, Westbrook and Harden were 27-for-53 from the field with 12 assists. The rest of the team was 8-for-25 with five assists. When I look at it like that, I want to change my mind to the glass half empty viewpoint.
  • Westbrook was up and down again. And after only two games, I’m ready to say that’s what we’ll see for the next 64. It’s just who he is at this point. Key words being at this point.  He’s still only 23. His jumper has clearly improved, but his decision-making and point guard instincts are still lacking. Tonight was the same script as Sunday’s opener. Westbrook had great attacks on the rim on one possession and reckless attacks that ended in charges on the next. He made great passes at times but then followed those with forces on others. I don’t know if those problems are correctable in mid-season. I doubt it. But I know there are 18,000 fans in 28 other NBA arenas that are dying to have a talent like Westbrook.
  • Durant had one of those games that made me repeatedly think and say out loud “I love my job.” It is amazing to watch all these guys play. But to see some of the things Durant does live is amazing. I lost count of how many tough shots Durant hit tonight. And he made them all look easy and effortless. That driving, spinning, falling scoop shot he had in the second half? You don’t need your whole hand to count how many guys in the league could pull off that play consistently. Durant is one of them.
  • Ricky Rubio is legit. I could stop there and be totally comfortable in my argument. That’s how good the kid is. But I’ll elaborate. He plays with great pace and incredible poise for rookie who just turned 21. His basketball IQ is clearly a notch above, as evidenced by his court awareness and his knack for knowing where to be both when he has the ball and when he doesn’t. His court vision is spectacular, so good that it reminds me of Chris Paul as a rookie. And he’s a true, pass-first floor general. If there is a good shot to be had on the court, Rubio is going to get it for you. If you don’t believe Rubio’s got game and think he’s all hype, that’s your right. Personally, I can’t wait to see more of the kid.
  • It was a strange, strange sight seeing the Thunder’s young guns all of a sudden playing the role of veteran bullies against Rubio. on his first possession, Rubio waited for the ball to be inbounded and had Harden intentionally bump him body to body. Eric Maynor then fouled him as he attempted to play Rubio physically on defense. Westbrook attacked Rubio as much as he could and clearly wanted to get the best of him. Rubio can expect much more of that. I haven’t asked anyone this but I imagine it’s a lot of guys around the league who are going to test Rubio in similar ways this season. But I guarantee you Rubio got the Thunder’s respect tonight.
  • Scott Brooks on Rubio: “I’ve been hearing about him for six years and I saw him for the first time 30 minutes ago and it was like, ‘He is real,’” Brooks said during his pre-game interview session with reporters. “He’s like a folk hero.”
  • Minnesota coach Rick Adelman needs to stop wasting everyone’s time playing Luke Ridnour. I’ve long been a fan of Ridnour, but it’s clear Rubio needs to be the captain of this ship.
  • Durant had a play at the end of the first half tonight where he dribbled down the clock before looking to make a play for a buzzer beater. This particular possession ended with a missed Nick Collison jumper. But it was a decent look if not a great one (it was at the opposite end from my seat). If you notice, Durant is becoming extremely effective at driving and dishing in those late-clock situations, whether it’s a kick out for a jumper or a dump off for a layup or short hook. More of that probably needs to be in the team’s playbook. He commands so much attention that it’s rare Durant will not get a good look for himself or somebody else.
  • It took the Thunder too long in the fourth period to get the ball to Harden and let him make a play. When Westbrook got a tad out of control and KD couldn’t get one to drop, Harden should have had the ball in his hands. I understand Westbrook had Rubio on him and that’s a matchup that absolutely needs to be exploited. But everything is just so much easier when Harden has the ball. The Thunder finally did it on one possession and Harden drove and kick, but Thabo Sefolosha was the recipient on the wing and the Thunder eventually came up empty on the possession.
  • Why did Brooks sub Sefolosha back in for Daequan Cook at that point anyway?
  • I thought it was a interesting move by Adelman to not call a timeout on his team’s  second-to-last possession. With two rookies on the court in Rubio and Derrick Williams, Adelman let things play out rather than settle them down and set something up. He explained afterward that he didn’t want to give the Thunder a chance to set its defense and switch on everything. That’s why he’s Rick Adelman and I’m some dude blogging.
  • Someone asked me on Twitter last night whether we should be concerned about Serge Ibaka. My answer was yes. Something’s not right with him. He doesn’t look like the up-and-coming force we saw last season. It’s much too early to draw conclusions, but it’s definitely worth keeping your eye on. Unlike last night, Ibaka’s intensity was at least there tonight. He was trying, which is more than I could tell he was doing against Orlando. But he just looks lost and confused most times and complacent at others.
  • There was tons of miscommunication tonight, with Ibaka seemingly at the center of it all. He got into whatever is a step below a shouting match with both Perk and Westbrook on separate occasions. At one point, it looked like Ibaka and Westbrook had to be separated by Nazr Mohammed. That’s two games in a row now that we’ve seen Ibaka basically beef with either teammates or coaches. I noticed Ibaka and Perk talking about something after the game and it looked like everything was cool. It’s a must that those guys get on the same page, though, because together they could be one of the most dominant defensive frontcourt tandems in the league.
  • Our old friend Byron Mullens scored 10 points in his debut with Charlotte tonight. Just thought you should know. Best of luck to Mullens. Here’s hoping him all the success he can handle.

-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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