With tonight's win, the Minnesota Timberwolves grabbed their 26th win of the season and ended the season series vs. the Thunder 2-2. Tonight's win ties the total wins from last season (finished 26-40). With one more win the Wolves will have the largest win total since the 2006-07 season (when Minnesota went 32-50).
The Thunder seemed to come into tonight's game expecting a win against the lowly Wolves. And why not, they had won two-straight vs. the Wolves and 15 of the last 16 coming into the game. They were riding a three-game winning streak and looked to put up an easy W to pull even closer to that #1 seed in the Western Conference.
Instead, the Wolves took advantage of staying close through three quarters and thanks to some late execution (something we've seen very little of this season) the Wolves were able to boost their lead to 9 points and ultimately held on for the victory.
When you let an 'inferior' team 'hang around' in a game, you're asking for disaster. The Wolves simply wouldn't let the Thunder pull away.
I said in the Gameday preview that the key to a Thunder victory will be the play of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin & Serge Ibaka. I added that if we could slow down just one of those guys, we could steal a victory tonight. Well, Kevin Durant went for 36, though he did miss a number of shots down the stretch. Westbrook added 18, but it took him 17 shots to get there. Serge Ibaka shot 40% from the field (4-10) and had 10pts and Kevin Martin was the key. K-Mart scored just 4 points on 1-9 and struggled the entire night with foul trouble. Cutting off that production from the bench and not allowing a secondary player like Sefelosha or Jackson or Collison go off for a big offensive night was key to this W.
I'm sure plenty of the playoff bound teams will be watching the tape from tonight's game to find some weaknesses in OKC's game. If a team that came into tonight's game with a .357 winning percentage can take down the Thunder twice in one season, they're doing something right.
At 9:37 left in the fourth quarter Kevin Durant stepped to the line and sunk two free throws. At that point the Wolves were up just three points, 84-81. It wasn't until 5:01 left in the fourth that the Thunder would score again on a Ibaka 15-footer. Over that 4+ minute stretch the Wolves scored 8 points to take a 92-81 lead.
The Thunder went 'cold' again late in the fourth. Durant hit an 8-foot jumpshot with 3:31 to play to make it a 92-87 Wolves lead. Fortunately Minnesota didn't allow the Thunder to score again until there were 58 seconds to play. With 58 seconds to play the Wolves were up 97-89. The Thunder would score only two more baskets and miss two threes. On their final possession, Ricky Rubio picked the pocket of Westbrook for his 4th steal of the night and dribbled the clock out for the 101-93 win.
Holding Kevin Martin to those 4 points and Westbrook's 18 on 17 shots was a big boost for the Wolves.
With roughly five minutes to play in the game and the Wolves up 9 all I could think was we have to hold on for the next couple minutes when Durant gets hot (which he always seems to). He hit a couple of late shots that had me worried, but the Wolves defense did an excellent job of changing things up on him. Adelman played a variety of defenders on him in that fourth quarter. Kirilenko had him for a stretch, Cunningham was guarding him for a few plays and even Chase Budinger had some time against him. Surprisingly, Budinger did a REALLY excellent job on D. I say that, because I never saw him as an above-average defender and instead an athletic scorer who excels in catch and shoot and spot up situations. I didn't by any means feel he was a bad defender, but seeing so little of him this season...I just didn't really he had those kind of 'defensive chops'.
The Wolves held the advantage on the boards, they forced the Thunder into more turnovers, got much better production from their bench, got to the line more and executed with a 81.5% clip. It was just a great all-around W for the Wolves and will be remembered as one of the few bright spots in yet another lost Timberwolves season.
The Wolves will look to make it two in a row tomorrow night vs. the Memphis Grizzlies. That one tips at 7pmCT from the Target Center, stay tuned for the preview, until then thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!