After limiting its primary concern to just five points and two rebounds Friday night, you'd think the Thunder would be boasting that its long-lost defense finally had returned.
You'd think wrong.
OKC cruised to a 127-111 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Chesapeake Energy Arena to snap a season-long three-game losing streak, and while Thunder coach Scott Brooks loved the 127 points his team scored, he wasn't at all satisfied with the 111 it surrendered.
“No question that what we have is not broken,” Brooks said of his team's long-lost defense. “It's just not working at the moment.”
The OKC defense worked well enough to hold 6-foot-11, 290-pound Timberwolves monstrosity Nikola Pekovic to 1-for-4 shooting from the field and two measly rebounds in 22 minutes. He entered the game averaging 16.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. In two previous meetings against the Thunder this season, Pekovic averaged 20.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.
OKC's prospects of containing Pekovic didn't look good at the outset. It wasn't known until an hour before tipoff that center Kendrick Perkins would be available after missing Wednesday's game at Houston with a sprained knee.
Perkins and reserve center Hasheem Thabeet had picked up two fouls each by the 2:46 mark of the first quarter while defending Pekovic. Turns out Pekovic would do all his scoring and rebounding in the first quarter.
“It was a major concern going into the game, not knowing if Perk was going to be able to play or not,” Brooks said. “I thought that his defense was good. That kid (Pekovic) has really improved. I think he may be the leading candidate for ‘Most Improved Player.' He (Perk) didn't give them many easy points. He didn't give them many offensive rebounds.”
The Timberwolves had seven players score in double-digits, but couldn't keep up with the three-man wrecking crew led by Russell Westbrook, who had a season-high 37 points and nine assists. Kevin Durant had 27 points and seven assists and sixth man Kevin Martin added 19 points in 25 minutes.
“We couldn't control their three big guys,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said afterward. “They pretty much had their way with us.”
The Thunder sizzled from all locations, shooting 57.8 percent from the field, 64.3 percent from 3-point range and 100 percent at the free-throw line (22 for 22). Durant, Westbrook, Perkins and Serge Ibaka led OKC in rebounding with seven each.
“I think on the offensive end we were good; we shared the ball,” said Nick Collison, who had eight points and four assists. “Defensively, we weren't as good as we needed to be. We gave up too many points and had too many lapses.”
Defensive help is on the way in newly acquired guard/forward Ronnie Brewer, who is expected to be activated in time for Saturday's practice.
The Thunder (40-15) next faces the Chicago Bulls (32-23) in an 8:30 p.m. game Sunday at The Peake.
“We need to keep defending,” Westbrook said. “I think we can do better defensively, but we have to win. After losing three games in a row, we have to win and get ready for Chicago Sunday. … I don't think offense is our problem. We just have to continue to find a way to make stops.”