GameDay Blog: Wolves vs. Thunder - Dec. 20, 2012

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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End Q4: That's the game, folks. The Wolves snap the Thunder's 12-game winning streak with a 99-93 win tonight at Target Center. Kevin Love scored 28 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Nikola Pekovic had 24 points and 10 rebounds, Alexey Shved had 12 points and 12 assists, and JJ Barea scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. The Thunder didn't lead once in this game.

Full postgame analysis, highlights, interviews and photos updated throughout the night at MIN 99, OKC 93

Q4 09.5: Ridnour hits a pair of free throws, pushing the lead back to six with 9.5 left. MIN 99, OKC 93

Q4 12.2: A couple developments here. Love absolutely swatted Westbrook on his attempt at the rim moments ago, but after the inbound Westbrook drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws. It's 97-93 with 12.2 left, Wolves ball. MIN 97, OKC 93

Q4 26.5: It's a six point game here and the Thunder will have the ball after a turnover by Cunningham on the baseline. Wolves have held the Thunder to 27.8 percent shooting from 3 tonight (5-of-18). Very nice defensive effort in that regard for a team coming averaging 9 per night and shooting 40 percent for the season. MIN 97, OKC 91

Q4 2:24: Barea continues to make the differnece, this time on the defensive end. Mismatched and giving up nine inches to Kevin Durant, Barea drew a pivotal charge with the Wolves up nine and 2:24 remaining. Durant was called for a technical foul in protest, and he's got five here the rest of the way. Huge swing for the Wolves who could go up 10 after the free throw with the ball. MIN 96, OKC 87

Q4 6:52: JJ Barea just put together eight points by himself and helped put the Wolves up 88-77 with an 8-0 run on his own. He hit a 3-pointer from the wing, put in a hard-working lay-up under the basket and then capped that stretch off with another 3-pointer. He's got 10 of the Wolves' 12 points this quarter. MIN 88, OKC 77

Q4 8:56: The Wolves are fending off the Thunder here, but a big statistic right now is the fact that the Wolves have scored just 10 points off the Thunder's 14 turnovers tonight. Minnesota needs to start capitalizing on those OKC miscues in the final nine minutes. Meanwhile, the Wolves are shooting 6-of-13 form 3-point range and are holding the Thunder to 4-of-12 from beyond the arc tonight. Nice effort contesting those shots and holding one of the league's best 3-point shooting teams to 33 percent. MIN 80, OKC 75

End Q3: The Thunder haven't gotten much production tonight offensively past Westbrook, Ibaka and Durant. They've got 58 of the team's 69 points. Meanwhile, The Wolves have gotten their production from Pekovic (24 points), Love (23 points) and Shved (12 points). This is a big fourth quarter, as the Wolves have had trouble closing out games throughout the season. They'll need a nice defensive effort against Durant and Westbrook to hold on tonight. MIN 76, OKC 69

Q3 2:27: It's been a back and forth third quarter. The Thunder went on an 8-0 run to cut the Wolves' lead to five, and then the Wolves extended the lead back with a 9-2 run of its own. The Thunder came back with a 9-2 run of their own, and as it stands Minnesota has a 72-65 lead with 2:27 left in the third. The last possession was capped off by a sweet alley-oop jam by Kirilenko from Shved. Shved has 10 points and 12 assists, Pekovic has 24 points and nine assists, and Love has 21 points, six assists and six rebounds. MIN 72, OKC 65

Q3 7:46: The Wolves brought the lead back up to 13 thanks to an aggressive offensive rebound and basket by Pekovic, who now has 22 points and seven boards. But the Thunder are on their way back. They just went on a quick 8-0 run capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Westbrook and Durant, and the Wolves called timeout with a five-point lead. MIN 59, OKC 54

Halftime: The Wolves nearly took a 12-point lead into the half, but Serge Ibaka nailed a 3-pointer with 0.9 left on the clock, cutting the Wolves lead to nine at the break. A few really nice first halves offensively for Minnesota, including 18 points from Nikola Pekovic. He has been a force down low, finishing the half 8-of-12. Kevin Love has 14 points, six assists and five boards so far tonight, while Alexey Shved has 10 points and eight assists. He hit a big 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the half that put the Wolves up 12. For the Thunder, it's been all Durant (15 points), Ibaka (12) and Westbrook (12). The rest of their team has a combined five points from Eric Maynor and Reggie Jackson. Halftime: MIN 53, OKC 44

Q2 1:43: Pekovic continues to make an impact inside. With the Thunder cutting the lead to seven minutes ago, Pekovic scored and drew the foul to swing the momentum away from OKC. He's got 18 points, and the Wolves continue to hold a 10-point lead late in the half. Love is looking at a potential triple-double tonight as he has 13 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Alexey Shved's seven points and eight assists put him in double-double reaching distance. Russell Westbrook continues to have trouble offensively. He's 3-of-10 but he's been to the free throw line enough to register 12 points. Kevin Durant is 7-of-9 with 15 points. I'm not sure he believes missed shots exist. So smooth. MIN 49, OKC 39

Q2 5:44: Rubio looked like he felt a bit uncomfortable in the last 30 seconds of play before this timeout. He is talking to trainers on the bench and will exit in favor of Shved right now but it doesn't look seriou. He'll get a rest for the time being as Barea, Shved, AK, Love and Pek head out after the timeout. MIN 40, OKC 29

Q2 8:57: The Wolves are doing a good job denying the Thunder looks from 3-point range. OKC averages nine makes per game and is shooting better than 40 percent from distance this year, but they're just 1-of-2 so far tonight. Meanwhile, the Wolves shoot 29 percent as a team this year from 3-point land but opened up this game 4-of-6. That will play a big part in this game. The Wolves need to hold OKC in check from beyond the arc, and it would be a huge bonus if they could win that battle tonight. Meanwhile, Durant and Westbrook started the second on the bench but it looks like Westbrook is about to check back in. MIN 34, OKC 23

End Q1: The Wolves wrapped up the first leading 30-18 over the high-powered Thunder. OKC averages 105 points per game, tops in the league, so keeping them under 20 points in the first is a pretty big defensive accomplishment. The Wolves got a perfect 4-of-4 shooting performance from Kevin Love (3-of-3 from 3-point range), and he has 11 points, four assists and four rebounds. Pek has nine points and two boards, really asserting his presence down low. He missed a couple shots inside the restricted area, which would have put him into double figures in the first. Shved also very impressive with seven points, six assists and three rebounds. Durant leads the Thunder with nine and Westbrook has five, but no other OKC players have more than 2. Thunder already with five turnovers tonight, but Wolves need to begin capitalizing on those. Wolves only have four points off turnovers tonight. MIN 30, Thunder 18

Q1 2:46: Shved is making an impact early in this game. He's already got five assists, the last one coming on a feed to Luke Ridnour on the fast break after Ridnour stripped Durant and sent the Wolves off and running. On a later possession, Shved hit a big 3-pointer that got the Target Center crowd on its feet. Wolves are up 25-11, and Rubio is about to check in for the first time tonight. MIN 25, OKC 11

Q1 5:24: Really nice start for the Wolves here at Target Center, opening up an 18-7 lead over the Thunder with 5:24 left in the first. Kevin Love already has a pair of 3-pointers (2-for-2 from distance) and leads all scorers with eight points. Nikola Pekovic is also off to a fast start, pounding the paint and picking up a quick seven points on 3-of-4 shooting. Minnesota is shooting 7-for-13 overall and is 2-of-4 from distance. The Thunder, meanwhile, are shooting 2-of-8 on the night and have three turnovers in the first 7 1/2 minutes. Kevin Durant is off to a nice start shooting 2-of-3, but he's been challenged by Andrei Kirilenko from the start. That's going to be a fun matchup to watch as AK can smother his defensive assignment due to his size and active play, but Durant is the best pure scorer in the game. MIN 18, OKC 7

Pregame 6:15 PM: Here are tonight's starters:

Thunder: PG-Russell Westbrook, SG-Thabo Sefolosha, SF-Kevin Durant, PF-Serge Ibaka, C-Kendrick Perkins

Wolves: PG-Luke Ridnour, SG-Alexey Shved, SF-Andrei Kirilenko, PF-Kevin Love, C-Nikola Pekovic

Pregame 6:00 PM: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love have a pretty deep bond, which you'd expect from a pair of UCLA guys who went to the Final Four together in college. So even though this summer was the first time the two played on the same competitive team since 2007-08, the two have always had a connection to one another and do what they can to stay close.

"Every summer we seem to find our way together, working out or doing [Team] USA, so it's a good experience."

Both Westbrook and Love have made good on their UCLA ties and turned themselves into NBA All-Stars. They'll face each other again tonight at Target Center, and when they do it will be a showcase of talent that comes from the same offseason routines. Westbrook said Love worked on his guard skills in the summer, while Westbrook himself tests out his post skills.

Westbrook doesn't, however, take any credit for Love's unique ability to step outside and hit 3s.

"No, I have nothing to do with that," Westbrook said, smiling. "It has nothing to do with me."

The Wolves played Oklahoma City close in each of their three meetings last year, losing all three by an average of 6.0 points per game and taking the Thunder to double-overtime before losing 149-140. In that game Love scored 51 while Westbrook had 45 of his own.

"They got a different team now, but they're a good team," Love said. "They have good players who are able to score the basketball and do different things on the floor."

Pregame 5:40 PM: The big pregame news was that the Wolves are waiving forward/guard Josh Howard after an MRI revealed his has a torn ACL in his right knee. Big blow to this team's depth as Howard added a veteran presence and a versatile with with athleticism that can play the 2 and the 3. It's the latest injury news in a seemingly continuous string this season. But if there is bright news on the injury front it's that guard Ricky Rubio will be back on the court tonight after missing Tuesday's game against Miami to regulate his play early in his return. Adelman said he'd likely play about 18 minutes. He will be coming off the bench again.

On another bright note, Brandon Roy was doing workouts on the court pregame. He met TNT announcer Reggie Miller in the hallway on his way back to the locker room and the two greeted one another with a hug.

Injuries have not been a big issue for the Thunder this season, although shooting guard Kevin Martin will not play tonight with a right quad contusion, according to coach Scott Brooks.

Brooks said a big key to success is health, and the Thunder have enjoyed that this season.

"You're a much better team with all your healthy players and I give coach Adelman a lot of credit," Brooks said. "He had a banged-up team to start the season but they still hung in there and they're right around .500 or above, and when they get healthy they're going to be a good team."

Brooks said the Wolves have a group of talented, skilled players that make facing them a difficult proposition. He said Kevin Love is a rebounding machine with hands like a "tight end—he just catches everything." Brooks also praised Kirilenko on the way he improves the Wolves defensively.

"That's his strength," Brooks said. "He's kind of like those guys that just fill up the stats sheets and every teammate loves to have around and you love to have him on the court because he does so many winning things for your team: Rebounds, passes, he's a great passer, he blocks shots, he defends, he hustles, he dives on the loose ball, he's an all-around terrific player."

Pregame 2:00 PM: Welcome to Target Center for tonight’s game between the Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder. There are a few NBA teams that are must-see clubs when they come through town, and tonight falls into that category. The Thunder are riding a 12-game winning streak, they lead the NBA in points per game (105.6) and point differential (plus-9.4) and they have the fewest road losses in the league (7-2).

The Thunder are dynamic across the board, but the catalysts are Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Their athleticism, speed and knack for putting the ball in the basket make OKC a tough team to face, but the Wolves did a great job last year of matching up with this club. Minnesota did lose all three against the Thunder, but they were by an average of 6.0 points and included a nail-biter to open the season and a double-overtime thriller on March 23. In that particular game, Kevin Love had a franchise-record 51 points and JJ Barea recorded his first career triple-double.

The Wolves did not play Ricky Rubio on Tuesday in Miami, but he’s scheduled to be available tonight as the team eases him back into game play. That will help significantly defensively, not only because of Rubio’s energy but because without him the Wolves have three healthy members of their back court. He’ll complement Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved and JJ Barea.

This is the Wolves’ first game on TNT since the 2005-06 season, and Minnesota is looking to make some noise nationally against the top team in the West and the defending Western Conference champions. Tonight’s game will also be broadcast on 830 WCCO-AM and the Wolves Radio Network, and be sure to follow this live blog for news, notes and analysis updated continuously throughout the night.

Here are a few pregame notes. Coaches will address the media about 4:30 p.m. today:

  • The Wolves trail in the series, 25-65, and are 16-29 at home. Oklahoma City has won the last 12 games of the series, including seven straight at Target Center.

  • Oklahoma City is averaging 115.9 ppg over the last 10 games of the series, compared to 108.7 for the Wolves.

  • The Wolves' 12-11 record is the team's best 23-game record since 2005-06 (13-10). Minnesota has used nine different starting lineups this season.

  • Minnesota outrebounded Miami by 29 (53-24) on Tuesday, the largest single-game margin in club history, and the largest margin in the NBA this season. The Wolves have recorded 10 double-digit rebounding margins this season -- they had 10 such games in 2011-12.

  • The Wolves rank 3rd in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (26.3) and have allowed the fewest free throw attempts (19.4). Minnesota has attempted 30+ FTs in a game 10 times this season and allowed less than 20 FTs in a game 12 times.

  • Minnesota has scored 50+ points in the paint the last five games, and eight times overall.

  • Kevin Love has recorded a double-double in 10 of his 13 games this season and 122 of the 141 games he's played in since the start of the 2010-11 season.

  • Nikola Pekovic is averaging 22.2 ppg, on 55.8% shooting, and 9.8 rpg over the last five games. He has six double-doubles this season.

  • Luke Ridnour has scored in double figures the last 14 games, averaging 13.5 ppg, on 61-for-118 (51.7%) shooting over that span.

  • J.J. Barea has scored in double-digits the last nine games, averaging 12.1 points, on 42-for-91 (46.2%) shooting, and 5.0 assists over that stretch.

  • Oklahoma City has a league best 21-4 record, including a current 12-game winning streak. The Thunder is 7-2 on the road this season. OKC is 19-1 when leading at halftime and 18-0 when leading after three quarters.

  • The Thunder has used the same starting lineup for all 25 games this season: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook.

  • The Thunder rank 1st in the NBA in scoring with 105.6 points per game, 2nd in FG% at 49.5%, 2nd in 3FG% at 40.9%, 1st in FT% at 84.5% and 1st in blocks with 7.68 bpg.

  • Kevin Durant ranks 3rd in the NBA in scoring with 27.7 ppg, 1st in free throws made with 208, and 8th in FT percentage at 90.0%.

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