Wounded or not, when the Minnesota Timberwolves walked into Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder viewed their arrival as a chance to right all that went wrong three weeks ago.
Minnesota made a mockery of the Thunder in mid-December, dealing OKC a sound defeat that snapped its 12-game winning streak. That loss, coupled with what transpired in Washington, provided the Thunder extra motivation to take care of Minnesota this time out.
“Most definitely, especially (a team) in our division,” said Kevin Durant at the team's morning shoot-around.
The end result was a thorough 106-84 victory that made the Thunder 3-for-3 in games that it has an opportunity to exact revenge on an opponent for an earlier loss.
After losing the season opener to San Antonio, the Thunder routed the Spurs by 14 the second time around. Oklahoma City also followed up a surprising home loss to Atlanta by shooting down the Hawks in the second and final meeting.
“We're always are good after losses and knowing what we have to do,” Durant said. “We always do a great job of looking ourselves in the mirror and figuring out what we did wrong.”
The Thunder improved to 6-1 this season after a loss and 27-8 on the year.
Minnesota was without star forward Kevin Love, who the Wolves on Wednesday announced would miss eight to 10 weeks with a broken hand. Pesky point guard J.J. Barea, who burned the Thunder in the fourth quarter last month, also did not play because of an ailing back.
But given what took place at Washington on Monday, when the Thunder suffered a stunning two-point loss to the injury-plagued and league-worst Wizards, those breaks were anything but a guarantee the Thunder would prevail in this one. Coach Scott Brooks even spoke to his team Wednesday morning about focusing on Minnesota.
“It was quick, to the point,” Brooks said. “And everybody locked in and focused on Minnesota tonight. And I knew they would. We've always been a team that takes pride in how we play and they did tonight.”
The Thunder outscored Minnesota 59-42 in the second half after struggling to put away the Wolves in the first. OKC squandered a 12-point second-quarter lead and went into halftime ahead only five.
“Our guys played hard, but we just ran out of gas,” said Minnesota acting head coach Terry Porter, who filled in for Rick Adelman as he missed his second consecutive game for personal reasons.
Minnesota might have been without 30 percent of its offense due to the absence of Love and Barea, but that didn't change how encouraging the sight of the Thunder's renewed defensive effort was. Oklahoma City held Minnesota to 43.1 percent shooting and forced the Wolves into 19 turnovers, which led to 26 Thunder points.
Unlike two nights earlier at Washington, OKC used its defense to ignite its offense and raced to 23 fast break points.
“You know a team like that is going to explode,” Porter said. “You try not to feed it and, for us, the thing we did was turn the ball over and that fed their break. They got out in the open court and got easy opportunities and ignited the offensive thrust that they had.”
The difference in the defense?
“Just taking ownership,” said Russell Westbrook, who scored 23 points with eight rebounds and seven assists. “I think if we take ownership in ourselves defensively then I think it shows on the floor.”
Durant, who scored a team-high 26 points with eight rebounds, three steals and four blocked shots, said the defensive schemes all stayed the same. The Thunder, Durant said, just played harder, communicated better and focused more.
“Against Washington, we didn't talk a lot. We were just switching just to switch,” he said. “And our effort wasn't as good as we wanted it to be. Tonight, we did a really good job of responding after a loss.”