It was interesting to play from behind, but man, was this game aggravating. The Thunder endured one of the worst shooting nightmares I've ever seen, enabling the Timberwolves to employ a zone defense, something that's rarely used in the NBA. By the time the game got down to crunch time, the Thunder were bricking open shots while the Timberwolves were happily locking down the lane.
I know what's on everyone's mind: Is Kevin Martin really that valuable to the team? Well, I will concede that he really balances out the Thunder's offensive attack, and he helps to take the pressure off of other shooters. And I'll also concede that if Kevin Martin was on this game and giving at least his average offensive production, we probably would have won. But, the Thunder really made their own bed tonight. Thabo Sefolosha was bricking open shots, Serge Ibaka was out of rhythm, Russell Westbrook kept making ill-advised charges into the lane, and Kevin Durant can only take the team so far.
Defensively, the Thunder were pretty unlucky. They played the TWolves pretty well for the last three quarters, but it still felt like they were giving up a ton of free shots on the perimeter. The general thought on the Timberwolves is that if you keep them from scoring on the inside (or at least make it semi-difficult), you won't have to worry about their perimeter shooting. Well, most of the time this is true, but today had to be the day that Aleksey Shved, Jose Juan Barea, and Kevin Love all decided to have excellent shooting nights. Not only that, it seemed like they were getting excellent opportunities because a defender would get caught trying to jones for a steal or protect the paint. That type of play is acceptable when the offense really needs a kickstart, but the number of open shots for a team that's normally middle of the road in terms of assists was just unbelievable.
Making the matchup even more frustrating was the fact that Ricky Rubio didn't even get significant minutes. He was decent enough in a backup point guard role, but Aleksey Shved looked incredible out there tonight. I always knew he had decent court vision, especially considering how well the Russian national team passes, but the court vision he displayed tonight was beyond his usual means.
Another quibble is Scott Brooks' choice of lineups. Even though he's rightfully worked to reduce the time the lineup of death (Bench + Sefolosha) gets on the floor, for some reason he was giving signficant minutes to that lineup without Martin. Basically, you've got Maynor, Jackson, Sefolosha, Collison, and Thabeet trying to generate points. It wasn't pretty. Then, Reggie Jackson, who was about as exciting as a Pu Pu Platter, played the last four minutes of the third and the entirety of the fourth. Are you kidding me? It just felt like Brooks said, "Okay Reggie, you're getting Martin's minutes, so you better show up." Yeah, Reggie Jackson's not Kevin Martin, and he was used terribly.
What could we have done otherwise? Well, I don't think I'm alone in saying I would have liked to see more Jeremy Lamb. Reggie Jackson has decent court vision and can penetrate the paint well, but Lamb is a much better shooter than Jackson is, and his long arms would have been useful against bigger opponents defensively.
The fact is, we're going to have to play games without Kevin Martin. He's missed 10 games or more in 7 of his 9 NBA seasons, and in the other two seasons, he missed two games. In all likelihood, he's going to go down with a minor injury here or there. When you don't have him on the court, you're going to need other options to score. And when Westbrook and Ibaka struggle like they did tonight, it's going to be mighty hard to win games. (I know 6-13 isn't exactly struggling, but for Ibaka, that percentage is pretty low.)
All in all, I guess you've got to chalk this up as a bad game. An overnight road trip from Atlanta to Minneapolis is no joke, and the Timberwolves are a lot better than people give them credit for. The whole thing just felt like one big tease. About every 5 minutes, the Thunder would go on a short run and you'd think, "Okay, this is where they start to take over." But they'd miss a shot here or there and give the lead back up. A quick glance at the Popcorn Machine for this game makes the second half look like a mountain range.
Anyway, even though our dreams of overcoming the 71-72 Lakers record of 33 straight wins are now shattered, I think it's better this way. The Thunder get five days of relaxation (possibly on Miami's South Beach) and they get their first chance for vengeance against the team that wronged them back in June. No distractions, no gimmicks. If you're not counting down the hours right now, then you either hate Christmas or you're not a Thunder fan. Enjoy the holiday, everybody, and get ready for a fantastic show come December 25th.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who put the team on his back.
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, whose good outweighed the bad.
Thunder Blunder: Reggie Jackson, who fouled 5 times and didn't score a lot.
Thunder Plunderer: Kevin Love, who had a good shooting night for once.
Next Game: At the Miami Heat, Tuesday, December 25th, 4:30 PM Central Standard Time.