Wolves End Thunder's 12-Game Winning Streak, Top OKC 99-93
For Kevin Love and the Wolves, it finally clicked.
Love made nine of his 20 attempts—including 4-of-9 from the perimeter—to total 28 points and help the Timberwolves to a well-rounded 99-93 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night.
“I needed a game like that,” said Love, who has struggled with his shooting since returning from a hand injury. “Since I’ve been back, I’ve felt like I’ve been shooting with my elbow. Coach has really stayed with me the whole time. We talked about me looking to get easier shots and shooting the ball with confidence.”
Wolves vs Thunder
Love wasn’t the only Minnesota player with a big game. Rookie Alexey Shved dished 12 assists—eight in the first half—and Nikola Pekovic recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
No summary of this contest would be complete without lauding bench guard JJ Barea. While the Wolves led for the whole game, the Thunder crept back within one point early in the fourth quarter. Barea sparked the Wolves with a scorching 8-0 run where he scored every point. After he hit his second 3-pointer in that stretch, the Target Center crowd erupted.
“That’s the best feeling,” Barea said. “I was just trying to get the crowd into it.”
Barea’s hot streak gave Minnesota some momentum and breathing room, and the Wolves went on to record a win against the top team in the Western Conference.
“It was great to see,” Love said. “We just had different guys stepping up, and that makes me happy. I looked up and JJ had eight points; I look up a few minutes later and he has 18. So it was great for us tonight, it was an entire team effort. Against a team like that, that’s what you need.”
For a Minnesota team that is notorious for building a first half lead only to collapse after halftime, it finally played four consistent quarters. The Wolves shot 44 percent from the field and recorded one of their best 3-point shooting efforts of the season with a 45 percent rate.
“What I really liked about it is we played four quarters,” coach Rick Adelman said. “We just played and played. We knew they were going to make a run at us. We got some stops, made some shots down the stretch. Just a terrific win for our guys.”
Besides shooting well and moving the ball, the Wolves benefited from an elevated defensive effort as well. Oklahoma City had just three players in double figures, and explosive guard Russell Westbrook turned the ball over eight times.
“Everybody did a pretty good job tonight containing the ball and concentrating on playing from defense to offense,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “The last couple of games we've had a huge problem getting back to the defense. Tonight we covered those easy transitions, cut down the turnovers and got on the boards.”
Both Kevin Durant and Westbrook had impressive nights, with 33 and 30 points, respectively. But the dynamic pair combined to shoot just 2-for-10 from outside, and they looked out of control at times while running the fast break.
“We were going to fight, and that's what we do,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We are not going to win every game. They played the better basketball game tonight for 48 minutes."
Leader of the Pack: J.J. Barea
While Love and Pekovic recorded higher point totals, Barea came in and made a huge impact at a crucial point. The Thunder were down by just one point early in the fourth quarter, and then Barea did what made him famous in the Mavericks’ 2011 playoff run: he provided a boost off of the bench.
Barea hit a three, a lay-up and another three—the last of which was from well past the line. He pumped his fist, gave a yell and Oklahoma City was forced to call a timeout to stop the guard’s hot streak.
“I think I got into a little bit of a rhythm in the fourth quarter,” Barea said. “Ricky got me a good pass for the first three-pointer, and I kept it going after that.”
Highlight of the Night
One of Shved’s six first quarter assists was a thing of beauty. The Russian guard drove into the lane and casually flipped the ball behind his head to Kevin Love, who connected on his second straight 3-point shot. The score gave Minnesota an 18-7 lead, and Oklahoma City called a timeout.
The Numbers Game
Quote of the Night
“That’s not the first time I’ve guarded someone taller than me.”—J.J. Barea, on successfully drawing a charge against the 6-foot-9 Kevin Durant.
The Wolves will practice on Saturday before flying out to New York where they will face an elite scorer and an elite team in Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. Minnesota then has two days off until hosting Houston on December 26.