Ok, so let's not tip-toe around the obvious here: the Thunder's big three was only 2/3 strong tonight. Losing Kevin Martin meant losing 16ppg and a whole lot of balance. Then they lost Eric Maynor, their steadiest hand, after just 5 minutes. That makes a difference.
That said, this was a hell of a performance by the Timberwolves.
Even without Martin, the Thunder are a powered squad. Russell Westbrook is the most physically vicious and dominant point guard in the league (yes, I'd put him above even Derrick Rose in that regard) and despite the loss of James Harden having appeared to regress his shooting back to a 2009 level, he dropped 30-11-9 on us. Serge Ibaka 14-9 and 5 blocks, and Durant went for 33-7-6. That's a lot for an upstart squad to try and overcome, but the Timberwolves found a way.
Shved and Pekovic drove the first half; JJ Barea drove the second half, and Kevin Love was an all-everything the whole way through. The Pups were never going to out-duel Durant/Westbrook 2-on-2, so they had to take a team approach, and they did.
More importantly, they finally fully employed the kind of offense they need to for this all to work. Love had a season-high 7 assists tonight by getting in the right mindset for an Adelman big man: a mobile, distributing opportunist. Keep yoyr body moving. Keep the ball moving. Don't force up shots...let them come to you in the system. Love's shooting is still very shaky, but his game as a whole was very well-rounded tonight.
On the other end, the Wolves successfully kept Oklahoma's offense in check. Bad Westrbook was on full display tonight, with the sort of play that drives Thunder fans crazy and creates a firestorm of 'selfish' and 'jealous' catcalls for everyone else's fans: poor shooting (9-28 from the field) and reckless distributing (8 turnovers). This is the type of contest the Thunder will badly miss Harden in come playoff time. Westbrook has always struggled with clutch decision-making....so the Thunder used to just turn the ball over to Harden and let Westrbook focus on being a scoring force in crunch time. That's no longer an option, and I'm not sure how OKC fixes that.
On one had, the Wolves had little to prove tonight. So what if we lose to the Thunder? They beat everyone. They're the better team. Business as usual.
On the other hand, this was 'Sota's first game on TNT in 6 years. In that time, they have had virtually no good press, and never beaten the Thunder, who are the reigning Western Conference champs and came into tonight's tilt riding a 12 game winning streak (now the longest winning steak belongs to the Clippers....think about that for a moment...) The Pups had lost all their early momentum and their star came under intense fire for some not-so-smart public comments about the front offense (not untrue, but not smart either) They had everything to prove.
And well....this is the best thing the home crowd has had to cheer for for in a long, long time.
- Everyone will know Alexey Shved now. No more flying under the radar. I counted at least 6 mentions of him and his fantastic first-half play by ESPN scribes' Twitter accounts. If their opinions mean anything (and they do, since they're the guys who vote on this stuff), Shved is very much in the Rookie of the Year hunt spotlight now.
- PS tonight's Twitter coverage was fantastic. I particularly appreciated Daily Dime charting the Thunder via emoticons. It went from =/ to =( to >=( in a span of about 35 minutes. Good stuff.
- Andrei Kirilenko actually fouled out tonight. That means he committed 6 fouls in 1 game. Or in other words, more fouls than he'd committed in the last 10 days.
- He also did as good a job checking Durant as anyone not named LeBron could do. And KD still dropped in 30+ on 12-18 shooting. This is no slight on AK. Durant is just that good.
- Barea put in 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Even more impressively, he made a suicide dive on defense that got Durant his 5th foul and riled him up so much he got a technical on top of that. Durant is a fierce competitor but a chill dude. I can't remember ever seeing him that upset.
- I'm still trying to figure out what purpose Kendrick Perkins serves for the Thunder. So far I've come up with 'preventing them from signing Nene/resigning Harden'. Quite a legacy there. Or something.
- I'm also trying to figure out what Kevin Love was going for with that beard. Maybe he thought if it was as formidable as James Harden's, the Thunder might relapse and accidentally pass him the ball...?
- Think of how unbeatable OKC would be if they hadn't backed out of the Tyson Chandler deal. Seriously, think about it.
- Actually don't. It'll just depress you.
- Pekovic was finally Pekovic again, and was the one guy the Thunder just didn't really have an answer for. The Wolves were able to force the Thunder to play bigger than they like to (meaning not much Durant at power forward) and Pek was the reason why.
- I'm watching MIA/DAL right now and LeBron is playing silly good basketball. The guy crushes us with 22 points, 11 assists and 4 blocks, and now he's got 16-6-3 at halftime against the Mavs. His season averages are 25-8.5-7. He's shooting 53%. He's actually hitting his threes. It's just ridiculous. S-n-P and I have been on his case for years for just coasting on being bigger and stronger than everyone else and never developing genuine skill. Consider us shut up.
- Best wishes to Josh Howard, who was waived today due to a torn ACL. Against some heavy odds, he did good work for us. He was carving a real niche with the team and we could have used him tonight and would have use for him for the rest of the year.
- If the Wolves can sustain this level of play, think what they'll look like with a healthy Lee, Roy and particularly Budinger.
- That is, if the world doesn't end tomorrow. If so, it's been real fellow Hoopusters.