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Thunder Rumblings


Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday's win over the Wolves

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: February 6, 2014 at 1:55 am •  Published: February 5, 2014
  • Nobody from the Thunder will say it. For them, it’s just another win, just another night that was used to get better. But don’t let the company line fool you. This was a big win. Not because of the opponent, or because of how it was done. This win was monumental because it was the Thunder’s 40th this season. OKC became the first team this year to hit that 40-win mark, a number that 40 percent of the league probably won’t see this year. And the Thunder did so four games before the All-Star break. Chalk that up next to the rest of the evidence that shows just how powerful this team is. No James Harden. No Kevin Martin. No Russell Westbrook. No problem. The Thunder just keeps on winning, developing in all the right areas while trucking along and making hardships look like a joke.
  • Last year, OKC was 39-14 at the break. The Thunder finished that season 60-22. This season, the Thunder is on pace to win 64 games. Keep that pace and it’ll mark the sixth straight season that the Thunder has finished with a better winning percentage than the previous season.
  • They don’t throw parades for having the best record at the break. But you can’t overstate how impressive that accomplishment is for a team that has been through so much. It’s significant, a sign of what this team could be capable of when at full strength.
  • But here’s how Kevin Durant downplayed the achievement. “I think we just played a few more games than other teams,” he said. “But 40 wins, I guess that’s a mark you want to get to as a team, I don’t know. But to be 29 games over .500, we’ll take that.”
  • Scott Brooks: “Wins and losses, I never focus on that. We just focus on doing our  job every night and living with the results. And they’ve been pretty good for a while now.”
  • Minnesota was missing its two best players tonight in Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic due to injuries, as well as its defensive ace, Corey Brewer, due to the recent birth of his son. Without them, the Wolves didn’t stand much of a chance. Love and Pekovic account for 43.6 points (41 percent of their offense) and 22.3 rebounds (48 percent of their rebounding). Still, the Wolves fought hard, played tough and made this a more competitive game than perhaps you would expect.
  • But when Minnesota dumped it to Ronny Turiaf, starting in place of Pekovic, early on, it pretty much summed up what an uphill climb this night would be for the Wolves.
  • Through three quarters, the Thunder never led by more than seven. OKC spent the second and third quarters staring at a margin that swung between a six-point hole and a four-point advantage. That’s how close this game was.
  • Brooks: “We knew that they were going to play hard. When you have a wounded team that gives guys that haven’t played a lot opportunities to play big minutes. And everybody in this league is good. There are no bad players. There are players that are developing to become better players. But there are no bad players. Everybody can play in this league.”
  • Minnesota coach Rick Adelman: “I think it shows that these guys compete. They weren’t afraid to go play them with three starters out. It gave the other guys an opportunity to play. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they competed. We just ran a little bit out of gas at the end.”
  • You could say the Thunder played to the level of competition tonight. And I couldn’t argue with you. But if that is indeed what happened, I can’t blame the Thunder. This is a team that knew it was better than the Wolves, a team that knew, on its home court, that it was only a matter of time before the inevitable would happen. As frustrating as the first three quarters might have been at times, the win was never in doubt. Would it be nice for the Thunder to play its best ball every night regardless of the opponent or the circumstances? Sure. But this is a long season. And sometimes you just have to get by. That’s what the Thunder did tonight. Just enough to get by.
  • A 13-4 run to start the fourth quarter put it away for OKC. That turned a three-point advantage at the start of the period into a 12-point cushion midway through the final frame. With the Wolves missing so much, it was a wrap. Minnesota never got closer than six the rest of the way.
  • The three-point advantage at the end of the third was brought to you by Derek Fisher, or perhaps I should say Wolves forward Gorgui Dieng, who goaltended Fish’s corner 3 at the buzzer with a bizarre rebound attempt that resulted in him actually sticking the ball in the basket. “I never seen that before,” Durant said. “That guy’s a rookie so I’m sure he’s going to learn from that one. But it gave us a little boost.”
  • Jeremy Lamb struggled with his shot tonight, missing seven out of 10 from the field (including a fast break layup). But he hit a 3-pointer at the start of the fourth to ignite the Thunder’s 13-4 surge. “Jeremy didn’t have a good shooting night, but he stepped up and we ran the first play for him in the fourth quarter and he made a 3,” Brooks said. “So it’s great that he hung in there and had enough confidence in himself to step up and hit that shot.”
  • Lamb should have dunked that feed from KD that ultimately ended in the missed layup. I can’t understand why he hasn’t had about seven highlight dunks this season. Someday.
  • Thunder turnovers helped the Wolves put up a fight. Two nights after coughing it up just 10 times through three quarters, the Thunder had five in the opening period and 11 by halftime. Minnesota scored 13 points off those 11 giveaways. Meanwhile, the Wolves turned it over just three times in the first half, and the Thunder didn’t convert any of those into points.
  • The final turnover count was Thunder 16, Wolves 14…and Adelman was the one steaming over his team’s giveaways. “We turned it over too many times,” he said. “Gave them easy baskets and gave them too many offensive rebounds. That’s probably what hurt the most.”
  • About the Thunder’s offensive rebounds. OKC had 19 of them, two shy of tying its season high. That’s pretty much a direct result of the absence of Pekovic and Love. The Thunder was narrowly out-rebounded in two of the first three meetings with Minnesota and won that battle by five in the third, making the rebounding game tied at 130 coming into this fourth and final contest. Tonight, the Thunder out-rebounded the Wolves, 49-39.
  • Kendrick Perkins did what he was supposed to do, take advantage of the hole Minnesota had in the middle. He grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds, which tied his season high. Five of those came on the offensive end, which is a season high. In the first 10 minutes and change, Perk had out-rebounded the Wolves, 6-4.
  • Perk’s and-one tonight on a drive from the 3-point line that turned into, I think, a runner. Charge? Block? Who cares? It was awesome. The staredown and the smack he talked to Turiaf was even better.
  • Without his trusty post threats, Ricky Rubio had to take on more of the scoring load. The pass-first point guard attempted 10 shots in the first quarter and finished with 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting. Jackson again struggled to stay in front of him, but without weapons around him Rubio wasn’t nearly as much as a factor this time. He had just five assists.
  • Jackson scored 20 points with a career-high nine assists.
  • Jackson’s last assist was a bit controversial. After stealing a Rubio pass, Jackson began bringing the ball up the court. As he did, Durant started demanding the ball from the left sideline, at about halfcourt. Jackson looked him off. When the two crossed halfcourt, Jackson did it again, this time holding up a hand in Durant’s direction without looking his way as if to say “chill, I got this.” Durant walked closer and continued demanding the ball. Nothing. After dribbling out some of the clock, Jackson made his move. Working from the right wing, he broke down his defender and slithered his way into the painted area, where he drew two defenders before dishing to a wide open Thabo Sefolosha in the left corner. Sefolosha knocked it down. It pushed the Thunder’s lead to 10 with 1:43 left to play and forced Adelman to call a timeout. As the Thunder walked the length of the court back to the bench, Durant still was on Jackson’s case to pass the ball. Jackson pretty much ignored the directive and strolled to the bench, where he then celebrated with Sefolosha.
  • The scene was nothing that we haven’t seen before between Jackson and Durant. This wasn’t the first time that Jackson didn’t get the ball to KD. But this was an instance in which I thought Jackson was in the right. The Thunder needed to run clock. Jackson did that. The Thunder needed to get something good to keep the Wolves at bay. Jackson created that. He didn’t nothing wrong. Jackson’s the point guard, and he did what he was supposed to do, take control of the offense and run the team. Is Durant the preferred choice? Absolutely. But he’s not the only player on this team that can make a play. Jackson is more than capable, and he showed it in that instance. There have been other times where Jackson should have gotten the ball to Durant as soon as possible and gotten out of the way. This one wasn’t one of those times.
  • With all that said, if Sefolosha missed that shot…
  • But here’s the thing. Sefolosha needed that bucket. Needed to see the ball go in. He was 0-for-7 from 3-point range prior to that basket (which could be used to argue Jackson’s decision was a bad one) but clearly felt good after seeing the ball fall. And here’s the thing. If you didn’t mind the corner 3 KD created for Serge Ibaka down three with 12 seconds left at Memphis a month ago, I don’t see how you can hold Sefolosha’s over Jackson with the Thunder up by seven.
  • Sefolosha did a fantastic job of shutting down Kevin Martin. He was the only real scoring threat Minnesota had left, and he mustered just eight points on 4-for-10 shooting. For only the fifth time this season, Martin didn’t attempt a free throw. Another excellent performance by Sefolosha and another example of why I think anyone who wants to trade him is crazy. This team, in my opinion, can’t win a title without Sefolosha. He means that much on defense in my eyes.
  • The B team started the second quarter and got outplayed. They were a minus-5 when the starters began subbing back in.
  • Dante Cunningham had the type of night that made a fan behind me say “That guy is very good.”
  • Cunningham did play with a ton of energy, though. Can’t deny that tonight. He had 18 points with eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and three blocked shots.
  • Durant kind of punk’d the Wolves at the end of the first half. Minnesota had been playing a great ballgame up to that point giving the circumstances. But Durant came and just shut it down. Here’s his final four minutes of the second, and keep in mind when this stretch started the Thunder trailed by four:
  • Rebounded the second free throw by Perk and converted a putback a layup.
  • Offensive rebound.
  • Tipped in an Ibaka miss.
  • Defensive rebound.
  • Buzzer-beating 3 for 56-54 halftime lead.
  • Durant also got whistled for his eighth technical foul this season. This one has a good chance of getting rescinded. All he said to official Eric Dalen was he’s fouling me. And in typical KD fashion, he walked up to Dalen after the timeout and talked it out.
  • Just one free throw attempt by Durant tonight. That’s a season low and the fewest he’s taken since getting a goose egg against the Lakers on March 29, 2012.
  • Funny. The Thunder attempted just 11 foul shots tonight, two more than a season low. The low? Nine against these same Wolves. So the two games with the fewest free throw attempts this season for the Thunder came against Minnesota. What gives?
  • Up next: at Orlando on Friday.

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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