MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder have been blowing the doors off the rest of the Western Conference in these first two months, playing with the swagger born of their run to the NBA Finals last season.
J.J. Barea and the Minnesota Timberwolves tried to send a message on Thursday night that a second straight trip isn't going to come easy.
Playing with the tenacity that made him so important to the Mavericks' run to the title two years ago, Barea scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to help the Timberwolves snap Oklahoma City's 12-game winning streak with a 99-93 victory over the Thunder.
Kevin Love had 28 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and Nikola Pekovic had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota. But it was Barea who was the key, scoring 12 straight at one point for the Wolves to hold off the team with the best record in the league.
"It's important," coach Rick Adelman said of beating the best in the West. "But I would like to see us get to a point where this is not a big deal. It's a big game against the best team, but this is something we can do."
Kevin Durant had 33 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for the Thunder, who had not lost a game since Nov. 23 at Boston.
"It's not the end of the world. A lot of people said the world is going to end today, tomorrow, but it's not the end of the world," Durant quipped. "We lost to a good team (Thursday). They came out and played extremely hard and they beat us. We're 21-5 and we've just got to go back and work."
That it was Barea, and not the Olympian Love or the sensation Ricky Rubio who was chiefly responsible was the biggest surprise of all.
Barea didn't join the Timberwolves until training camp had already started last season, then languished through the first injury plagued year of his career. Finally healthy, he's getting back to the super pest that helped the Dallas Mavericks to the title two years ago.
With the Thunder charging early in the fourth quarter, the smallest guy on the court played the biggest.
After Durant's two free throws cut Minnesota's lead to 80-77, Barea hit two 3s and scored on a putback under the rim amid the tall trees, an 8-0 run by himself that gave the Wolves a little breathing room. His long 3 with 5:26 to play made it 92-81, and the Wolves held on.
"I love it," Barea said. "We just needed a little bit more tonight, a little energy and I'm glad I was able to provide that for us tonight."
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