Durant, Westbrook Too Much As Thunder Top Wolves 115-110

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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You could make a fair argument that three of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ most complete games this season have come against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite facing the top team in the Western Conference with depth and offensive firepower across the board, the Wolves have battled OKC from start to finish in each of their three meetings and pushed the Thunder to their limit.

And even though the Wolves finished the year 0-3 against OKC, including a 115-110 loss on Saturday at Target Center, it’s also fair to say that Minnesota put together its most complete effort in its past eight games. With five games remaining in the season, the Timberwolves hope that their effort against Oklahoma City will translate into victories in the final two weeks.

“We just have to keep playing like this until the end of the season,” center Nikola Pekovic said. “We don’t’ want to finish the season on a losing streak. So if we keep playing like this, we will be fine. We’ll catch a couple more wins.”

Saturday’s loss boils down to the automatic play of Thunder forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook. The two players have averaged 38.7 and 36.0 points, respectively, in three matchups with the Wolves this season.

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This game was no different. Durant scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, finished with 43 in the game and willed Oklahoma City to victory as Minnesota mounted a late comeback. Durant was 7-of-10 in the final frame, while Westbrook added 35 points of his own in the game.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman said the coaching staff continued to try new defensive assignments on the two, even switching 6-foot-11 forward Anthony Randolph to guard Westbrook, but the two were simply too much to handle with the game on the line.

“That’s what great players do,” forward Michael Beasley said. “They want the ball, they want shots and they make shots. That’s what [Durant] did. It’s nothing special to him. He does it every night.”

Beasley had a big night of his own.

The Wolves forward finished with 26 points on the night off the bench, and he scored 18 of his points in the second half. Late in the game he got more and more efficient, shooting 5-for-7 in the fourth quarter.

He nailed a jumper with two minutes left to cut the Thunder’s lead to five, then hit a driving lay-up with 26 seconds left to cut the lead to 110-107.

“We wanted him to attack the basket,” Adelman said. “I didn’t think they had anybody that could guard him if he was aggressive.”

After a dunk by Durant, Wolves guard JJ Barea came back with a 3-pointer with 15.6 seconds left to cut the lead to 112-110. But in the final 15 seconds Westbrook hit 3-of-4 free throws to ice the game.

Free throws were the difference on Saturday. While Oklahoma City (44-16) hit 28-of-32 shots from the line, Minnesota finished 22-of-34.

Still, Minnesota brought the game down to the final seconds and had a shot to pull off the victory. Along with Beasley, Barea had another big game against Oklahoma City. Coming off a triple-double against the Thunder on March 23, Barea finished Saturday with 24 points and 10 assists. He had 17 points in the first half, then added nine of his 10 assists after halftime.

Randolph again provided a spark off the bench. He’s put together three straight games of solid offensive production and defensive aggressiveness, and Saturday’s game was no different. He had 22 points and 11 rebounds on the night.

Pekovic had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Wes Johnson finished with eight points.

For Oklahoma City, Nick Collison was the only other Thunder player to score in double figures. He had 10 points on the night. But the combination of Durant and Westbrook was enough to pick up the victory.

“We haven’t had much success against those two guys,” Adelman said. “We were going to come out and double-team [Durant], but he drew fouls before we could even double him.”

Adelman said even in defeat, the Wolves can build off this effort because of the way they battled back and nearly took out a team who could make a deep playoff run.

“You’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit,” Adelman said. “We played with a lot of energy tonight. That’s a great team with two great players, and we competed the whole time.”

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