What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
You know, I really didn't think the Timberwolves could even come close to challenging for a win. And usually when things don't turn out how I thought they would, I say that the Thunder didn't do X well, or the Thunder didn't do Y. But tonight, I think I'm going to take a different approach.
The Timberwolves were able to push the Thunder to the brink tonight because of several reasons. For one, you can't dismiss J.J. Barea, who has to be the most consistent Thunder killer in the league. I'm glad we won't see him in the playoffs. He almost literally carried his team through the first quarter, and scored key baskets throughout the game, including a three late in the fourth that brought the T-Wolves to within two. Secondly, the use of Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph in the 4 and 5 spots was genius. The Thunder are generally terrible at defending big men who can shoot, and all of the Thunder big men were much slower than the TWolves combo, letting them get in the lane. Thirdly, the Timberwolves did a good job on perimeter defense in the first half, never leaving a man open. Lastly, Nikola Pekovic did a good job of undercutting the Thunder big men and using his size against guys not named Kendrick Perkins.
The bottom line for the Timberwolves is this. Despite David Kahn being the league's laughingstock in terms of making questionable GM decisions, he has assembled a roster of sleeping giants. The guys on his team might not perform consistently or have a defined role, but almost all of them can go off for huge points when things click. It's not necessarily a recipe for success, but it makes them somewhat injury proof, and it's not something you could say about most players on the Thunder, who are very set in their roles and what they can do.
What was tonight's turning point?
With 2:53 to go in the fourth quarter, the Wolves were down by 10. The game is pretty locked up at this point, right? Wrong. The Thunder spent the next four possessions committing two offensive fouls, hitting one free throw, and bricking two threes. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, got three solid looks (two of which hit) and a trip to the line. The Timberwolves were down by 5 with 30 seconds to go, and what happened afterwards was the craziest 17 seconds of basketball I've seen in a while. Beasley busts to the rim for an easy lay-in. Before the TWolves can get back on D, KD runs coast to coast for an easy dunk. Then, JJ Barea takes advantage of the ensuing chaos by running back to the other end and hitting a wide open three. The T-Wolves narrowed the lead to two at this point, and after the ensuing foul and made FT, they had the ball with 13 seconds to go an a four point deficit. But Beasley missed another layup attempt, and it was all over.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
1. Kevin Durant. The Thunder's offense sagged at points, especially when the second unit was out there. I wasn't paying specific attention to Harden, but it looked like he didn't have the same lift on his jumpshot after experiencing knee soreness that kept him out of yesterday's game. If this game of Harden negatives tells us anything, it's that we need Harden at 100% in order to defeat another playoff team. Hopefully his injury gets healed soon. Regardless, Kevin Durant carried the team after things dropped off a bit in the early fourth. We ran simple plays for him, and he produced time and time again.
2. Offensive Boards. Nick Collison's 10 points? All off of offensive boards. 'Nuff said.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The Thunder went 7-25 from beyond the arc. Harden was 0-8, Cook was 0-3, and Thabo was 1-4. When these guys aren't hitting threes at consistent levels, it's not good. But when they compound this by throwing up more needless threes, the situation only gets worse. With a healthy Harden I doubt something like this happens again, but still, it's something to keep an eye on as we trudge through the final stretch.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The win keeps them one game ahead of the Spurs, who at the time of writing have a 15 point lead over the Suns in the fourth quarter of their game tonight. The win shuts out the possibility of the Clippers overtaking us, and a win against the Clippers on Friday would shut out the possibility of the Lakers doing so as well. Lastly, not to be pedantic, but it keeps the possibility of winning 50 games alive. Which would be cool in this shortened season.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 43 Points, Clutch Play in the Fourth, and an Awesome Coast to Coast Dunk
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook. He was an awesome scorer, but he did a great job handling the ball tonight as well.
Thunder Blunder: James Harden. 1-11 from the field, 0-8 from three. Yikes. Get that knee better, man!
Thunder Plunderer: Jose Juan Barea, 24 Points, 3 Rebounds, 10 Assists, 3 Steals. About as complete a statline as you can get from this guy.
Next Game: At the Los Angeles Clippers, Monday, April 16th, 9:30 PM Central Daylight Time.