Oklahoma City started strong and outscored the Wolves 33-23 in the first quarter. They were led by Russell Westbrook that dropped 11 of his 37 points in that 1st Q.
A big key to the Thunder's victory was limiting Nikola Pekovic. Pek scored all 5 of his points in that first quarter, but OKC made a point of collapsing into the lane--not allowing him to roll to the rim for easy buckets. Pek played just 22 minutes on the night and finished with 5pts, 2reb & 2stls, while hitting 1-of-4 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line. The Thunder defense was solid against him, however if he needs more than 4 shots in a game.
With Pek playing not playing great, Greg Stiemsma saw 25 minutes of action. Greg responded with a career-high 13pts and added 6reb, 1stl & 4blks. As you all know, I'm not a big Stiemsma fan, but he definitely looked solid tonight. I honestly just wish they guy could give us 4pts, 4reb & 1-2blks in 10-15 minutes off the bench every game. If he could do that, my negative attitude towards him would certainly change.
Ricky Rubio had the best all-around game for Minnesota. He scored 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, while adding 5 rebounds, 9assists and 5 steals in a team-high 32 minutes. In a season where the Wolves have lost 32 games and have been absolutely decimated with injuries, his play as of late has been a lone bright spot.
Despite being without their superstar (Love) the Wolves remained competitive against one of the NBA's premier teams. Getting those 59 points from the bench certainly helped: Shved (17), Cunningham (15), Barea (14) and Stiemsma (13). Beyond those four reserves, 3 other starters: Kirilenko (15), Rubio (13) and Ridnour (10) all scored in double-digits, with Derrick Williams adding 9 as well.
As of late, the play from the Wolves' post players (Williams & Pekovic) have been key. Tonight it was their 'ineffectiveness' that doomed the Wolves. Williams was particularly frustrating. There were numerous times (especially early in the game) that he'd receive the ball for a wide open three-pointer or mid-range jumper and instead of taking it, he'd instead drive into the crowded lane, get bumped and blow the layup then throw up his hands begging for a foul call. Of course, out of the six or seven times he tried this, he got a foul call just once! Williams did score 9 points, but did so on 3-of-14 shooting, while also going 0-for-2 from deep. Just wasn't a good night for the starting 4 & 5 Timberwolves.
While the Wolves bench led the way for them; Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin were HUGE for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook finished with 37pts, 7reb, 9ast, 1stl, 1blk in 35 minutes. Kevin Durant added 27pts, 7reb, 7ast & 1blk in 37 minutes, while Kevin Martin came off the bench to play 25 minutes (and although he fouled out in the fourth) finished with 19pts, 2reb, 1ast & 1stl.
It was that early first quarter Thunder lead that doomed the Wolves. They led by 10 after one and never found themselves down by more than four or five points as they led throughout. The game was based on a number of 'runs'. The Thunder would suddenly 'get hot' and push the lead to double-digits (at one point all the way to 17) only to give up a big Minnesota run that would usually cut the deficit in half and even found themselves down by two possessions a few times.
These two teams will meet one more time on March 29th and (hopefully) by that time Chase Budinger and Kevin Love are back on the active roster. That should make for one terrific game!
That's all for now, the Wolves will play again on Sunday back at the Target Center. They'll face the slumping Golden State Warriors at 2:30pmCT. We'll have a full gameday preview before then. Thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!