Recap: In a battle of Kevins, Durant out-duels Love as Thunder come from behind to win over Timberwolves, 115-111

via Jesse Johnson, US Presswire

The Thunder started slow, but Kevin Durant went nova in the fourth quarter and Kevin Love missed a few potentially game-changing free throws as OKC came from behind to win.

Box ScoreCanis Hoopus

WOW.


In a game that started ugly for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they were able to escape Target Center with a 115-111 come-from-behind win against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Durant recorded a season-high 48 points on 16-of-32 shooting from the field and 12-of-13 from the line, with a ridiculous 23 points coming in the fourth quarter alone. The Wolves were led by Nikola Pekovic's 31 points and11 rebounds for the double-double.

The first 3/4 of the game was a defensive disaster for the Thunder, with the Wolves getting whatever they wanted in the paint for much of the game. Down 10 going into the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant took over. From there, the game went right down to the wire. Kevin Durant's absolutely dirty stepback jumper over Dante Cunningham gave the Thunder the lead for good with 4.0 seconds left. Kendrick Perkins inadvertently fouled Kevin Love on a three-pointer, but the Thunder dodged a bullet as Love missed the first two. Love tried to intentionally miss the third  in order to try for an offensive rebound, but Love missed the rim completely, which was a free throw violation and a turnover. The Wolves put Durant on the line at the other end of the court, and Durant iced the game by scoring his final points of the game.



What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?

The Thunder's defensive performance in this game was really concerning, especially early in the game. The Wolves were getting whatever they wanted in the paint, with the Wolves starting the game with nine of their first ten field goals coming in the paint. Ricky Rubio had no problem getting to the rim, Kevin Love was dominant in the post, and Nikola Pekovic put up a gaudy 31-point performance. The Thunder players were constantly out of position, late on rotations, and lazy in challenging shots. Steven Adams was the only player who consistently defended the rim, but he played just 16 minutes. This problem was remedied a bit as the game progressed, but the Wolves still finished the game with a 66-46 advantage in points to the paint.

The offense wasn't much better. Corey Brewer did a great job of defending Kevin Durant most of the game, holding him to 5-16 shooting in the first half. Nobody else really got it going. Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson scored a respectable 12 and 10 respectively, but it was ultimately Derek Fisher who scored the second-most points for the Thunder with 13 points. Fisher's three-point shot was falling tonight and he hit three triples, but if things had gone the other way, the Thunder would've needed more of an impact from Ibaka and/or Jackson. As things were, Kevin Durant had to bail the Thunder out.

What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?

Yeah, it was Kevin Durant. What he did in the fourth quarter was pretty ridiculous, especially after such a slow start to the game. He got to the rim with ease, had a stretch where he hit FOUR THREE-POINTERS IN A ROW, and of course, hit the game-winner over Dante Cunningham. The Thunder might have been a bit lucky that Corey Brewer fouled out with 30 seconds left, but Cunningham still did a good job of contesting KD's stepback jumper. Durant gon' Durant, I guess.

What was a key statistic to understanding the game?


I could talk about points in the paint, but instead we'll look at free throws. The Thunder had 28 attempts while the Wolves had 29, effectively the same amount. However, the Thunder sunk 27 of their chances (96.4%) while the Wolves sunk just 18 (62.1%). Minnesota left 11 points at the free throw line in a game that was decided by 5 points.

And of course, we have to talk about Kevin Love's missed free throws at the end of the game. Perkins fouled him on a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left, which could've given the Wolves a chance to take the lead with almost no time remaining if Love made all three. Unfortunately, he missed the first two and was forced to intentionally miss the last for a chance at an offensive rebound. Talk about some game-changing free throws.

For the Thunder, they were led by Kevin Durant in their conquest of the free throw line. Durant went 12-of-13 from the stripe, and early in the game when he struggled to create shots with the ball in his hands, he was able to draw fouls and establish a pace on free throws. Nobody else missed a free throw, as Jeremy Lamb went 5-for-5, Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson both went 4-for-4, and Steven Adams went 2-for-2.

What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?

It's good to see the team continue to build confidence without Westbrook. Durant saw a lot of double-teams in this game, and the Thunder visibly struggled early when Durant was forced to pass the ball. They did eventually adjust, however. The all-bench lineup started the second quarter on a 8-0 run, and every bench player scored at least 8 points except for Perry Jones III, who didn't attempt a field goal in 10 minutes. That last part is a little disappotining, but it's fine when everybody else performs so well.

Steven Adams was outstanding, and it's mind-boggling why Scott Brooks didn't play him for more than just 16 minutes. I said this earlier, but he was consistently challenging shots at the rim without fouling too much. In the 16 minutes he saw, he nearly recorded his second career double-double and finished with 10 points, a team-leading 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks. The Thunder will need their quietly strong bench to continue to perform well in Westbrook's absence, and hopefully PJ3 will continue to see more and more trust from Brooks as this continues.

Extra game notes:

  • Three-point shooting was a problem for the Thunder again, going just 1-of-10 on threes in the first half. Derek Fisher hit a couple threes in the the third and Durant went nova in the fourth, but the inconsistent three-point shooting of this roster is really starting to frustrate.
  • Didn't get to discuss Kevin Love much, but he nearly matched Nikola Pekovic's scoring by recording 30 points himself to go with 14 rebounds. He hit five threes and made some really good-looking stepback jumpers and post scores in this game. The seven turnovers and missed free throws do hurt, though.
  • The Thunder looked absolutely lifeless in this game. Guys were visibly tired and a step slow on defense or in transition. With a game tomorrow against the Boston Celtics, fatigue could be important.

***

Kevin's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 48 points (16-32 FGM-A, 4-9 3PM-A, 12-13 FTM-A), 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 1 block

Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams - 10 points (4-5 FGM-A, 2-2 FTM-A), 9 rebounds, 2 blocks

Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha - 5 points (2-7 FGM-A, 1-4 3PM-A), 1 rebound, 1 assist, 2 turnovers

Thunder Plunderer: Nikola Pekovic - 31 points (13-22 FGM-A, 5-8 FTM-A), 11 rebounds (5 offensive)

***

Next game: vs. Boston Celtics @ Chesapeake Energy Arena (Sunday, January 5th @ 7:00 PM CMT)

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