The Oklahoma City Thunder lost a puzzling game to the Minnesota Timberwolves, falling on the road 101-93. In a game where OKC showed a strange lack of intensity or urgency, it was as if they didn't quite recognize the stakes involved of the possibility of losing to a Wolves team that is limping toward the finish line.
The Thunder stat sheet was a strange dichotomy of resourcefulness and ineptitude. Kevin Durant had his way with the Wolves defense for most of the night, scoring 36 points and grabbing 7 rebounds with relative ease. Meanwhile, his All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook played a strangely passive game (for him), in scoring 18 points on the night while handing out 9 assists.
The Wolves were led inside by Nikola Pekovic, who pounded his way to 22 points and 15 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive. Meanwhile, Ricky Rubio showed remarkable patience against the Thunder's trapping defense, waiting for the good shots to manifest. Rubio finished with 17 points, 7 assists, and 4 steals on the night.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder missed a good opportunity tonight to keep pace with the Spurs in the West. I can understand a loss to a team that plays well, but given that there are only now 9 games left in the regular season and the Thunder came into tonight's game down 1.5 games to San Antonio, with the Spurs facing a determined Clippers team tonight. Well, if you've checked your box scores, you know that the Spurs pulled out a big win against L.A. and OKC lost tonight, which means that the Thunder fall behind by 2.5 games remaining.
To me, that's probably the most discouraging element to this game. The Thunder had much to play for and lost to a team that is lottery-bound.
What do we take away from this game in light of the playoffs?
In another, better year we might actually make the claim that the Timberwolves demonstrate themselves. A healthy Kevin Love, a better stretch of good luck, and the Wolves might be fighting for a low playoff seed and a possible first round match-up against the Thunder. However, the Wolves will be watching from home, which means that their unique 3-guard offense that features a rotating lineup of Rubio, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, and Alexey Shved will likely not be seen again.
The closest that we might see to this sort of attack is what the Spurs can do with Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Gary Neal, but we've seldom seen that line-up employed against the Thunder. OKC's size would become too much a detriment to a line-up like that, so for better or worse, the Wolves' offensive system is likely not much to worry about at this point.
What IS cause for concern though is that once again the Thunder bench was anemic. The main culprit on the night was Kevin Martin, who shot a woeful 1-9 from the floor and the bench as a whole produced 17 points (the Wolves produced nearly twice as much, scoring 33 on the night). While Jackson once again did a good job producing some offense and was on the floor during crunch time, the rest of the bench could not match his effort.
This might be the normal time to turn and look at Derek Fisher, but he is only part of the problem. The reason why Fisher makes so little sense on this bench is because there is no real scoring locus if Durant and Westbrook are both off the floor. What plagued OKC tonight however was that even with Durant on the floor, the bench still could not produce. Durant played a too-high 41 minutes on the night and while his own offense was good, the teammates surrounding him were not making the Wolves pay for their double-teams.
The result was a pathetic 16 points in the ultimate quarter and numerous missed open shots. The Thunder bench must play better while they are on the court.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
With the season slipping away, the Thunder lost precious ground tonight. They face the Spurs next week in a game that could be their last best chance at overtaking them in the playoff seedings. However, if OKC continues to slip up in games like this, that game's outcome will be academic.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 36 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 10 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Martin, 1-9 shooting for 4 points
Thunder Plunderer: Ricky Rubio, 17 points, 7 assists, 4 steals
Next game: @ the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, March 30th at 7:30PM CDT
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