The Minnesota Timberwolves found out just prior to tipoff that they'd be without J.J. Barea, who is dealing with back spasms. With Barea out, the Wolves had just two healthy guards (Ridnour & Shved) as well as Rubio, who was unfortunately still on a minute 'cap'.
The Minnesota Timberwolves had just ten healthy players for this one, while the Oklahoma City Thunder had a full roster without a single injury. I don't mean to sound like a 'big baby' but it's just unfair. Unfair that we (as fans) have had to suffer through all these player injuries to guys like Rubio (out to start the season), Kevin Love (out to start the season and now, likely for the rest of the season) and then guys like Brandon Roy, Malcolm Lee & Chase Budinger all dealing with significant knee injuries. I'm just praying that Nikola Pekovic & Andrei Kirilenko stay healthy, because without them--the Wolves have absolutely no shot to stay competitive this season.
There's not to much to tell about this one, though. The Wolves kept it close through the first half as it was just a five-point game (42-47). That was thanks in large part to a big second quarter from Alexey Shved where he scored 14 of his 18 points.
Then came the second half. You could see a lot of 'tired legs' out there as the Wolves were playing the second game of a back-to-back set, while OKC had last played on Monday night. The Thunder were able to push the lead to 12 after three quarters. Things didn't get much better in the fourth quarter, after 3-4 minutes into that final quarter the Thunder had pushed the lead to 20 (at one point) and put their deep reserves in: Eric Maynor, Hasheem Thabeet, Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Liggins, etc.
Despite keeping it close through the first two quarters, I think we all knew that the Wolves didn't have much of a chance in winning this one--extremely shorthanded, playing one of the NBA's best teams and doing so on a back-to-back set.
Let's take a look at tonight's top performers...
The Minnesota Timberwolves had ten healthy players. The Minnesota Timberwolves played all ten guys and not a single one of them finished with a positive +/-. Needless to say tonight's 'top performers' were based solely on points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
Alexey Shved had that big second quarter, but struggled in a number of other areas. Shved has soon during his short time in the NBA that he struggles against stronger more physically imposing guards. So, when guys like Russell Westbrook or Thabo Sefelosha press up on him--like they did tonight, it becomes hard for Shved to maintain control of the ball which was evident with the 7 turnovers in tonight's game.
Nikola Pekovic only played 27 minutes (not really sure why), but still finished with a double-double. The biggest surprise of this isn't the 27 minutes he played, but rather that he only took 10 shots. There were numerous times when the Thunder were playing man-to-man defense and had single coverage on Pek down in the paint. I counted a number of times where the Wolves had spaced the floor, leaving Pek open down low with Nick Collison covering him and instead of feeding him the ball the Wolves opted for a contested mid-range or three-point shot...it was absolutely mind-boggling. With Kevin Love out, Nikola Pekovic is the team's best offensive weapons. I understand that the mid-range or three-point shots open up things for him down low, but when Pek has Collison guarding him in the paint...you've got to take advantage!
Derrick Williams had another terrific game off the bench. He scored 8 of his 14 in the fourth quarter while also adding 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. I definitely like how he's been playing lately as he hit a number of difficult shots in tonight's game. I really like him in this role (coming off the bench) with Dante Cunningham as the team's starting power forward. With the success both have found in their new roles (with Love out) I don't see any reason to change what's clearly working.
I won't go on about Durant or Westbrook, we all know what those guys can do, they're great on both ends and they're the heart and soul of this squad. With all of Minnesota's injuries (particularly), I got to thinking what if the Thunder lost Kevin Durant for the season? I think Westbrook, Martin and Ibaka could still lead them to the playoffs, but they'd likely face a quick first round exit as a 7th or 8th seed. This team is built around four guys (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Martin) and they don't have a lot of great depth on this roster with a second unit of Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Perry Jones, Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet. If your a Thunder fan, I'd pray for good health for your superstars!
MISC. STATS: Nikola Pekovic threw up a three-pointer from nearly the full length of the court as time expired in the second quarter, the shot was well short, but he did get it off before the buzzer, as such that's Nikola's first and only three-point attempt in his NBA career.......Luke Ridnour finished with four steals which ties a season-high (the third time this season he's had 4 steals in one game).......Ricky Rubio played a season-high 22 minutes (despite being on a 20 minute limit)......Alexey Shved had 2 steals in the game which ties a season/career-high (and is the 9th time this season he's had 2 steals in one game)........Derrick Williams' 9 defensive rebounds is a new season-high and his 11 total rebounds is a season-high, but also ties a career-high (tonight was the third time in D-Will's career he's finished with 11 rebounds)......Lazar Hayward was up against his former team and had a season-high 8 points (all during 'garbage time' in the fourth quarter). Hayward tied a career-high with his four made free throws in tonight's game......
KEY STATS: The Thunder shot the ball very well from deep. They struggled during the first quarter shooting the ball just 28.6% from the field. If you'd like some 'key stats' that you can point to as to why we lost: the Thunder's 23 fast break points, 39 points from their bench and forcing the Wolves into 19 turnovers that they turned into 26 points.
MISC. STATS: Minnesota's 84 points ties their second-lowest scoring output of the season.......The Thunder's 23 free throws made and 106 points both tie the second-highest totals for a Wolves opponent this season, while their 13 steals is the second-highest mark for a Wolves opponent.......The Thunder's 76 field goal attempts is also the second-lowest total for a MIN opponent this season.......
That's all for now, the Wolves will be back in action vs. the Hornets in New Orleans on Friday night. We'll have a full gameday preview of that one Friday afternoon, until then, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!