The Minnesota Timberwolves crushed the Oklahoma City Thunder in Minnesota, 100-81. The final disparity does not adequately reflect how dominant a performance the Wolves displayed, as they were up by 33 points midway through the 4th quarter. Only due to a late offensive outburst by the Thunder was the margin as small as it was.
The Thunder were led by Jeremy Lamb, who finished with a team-high 16 points on 7-15 shooting. Kevin Durant struggled all night and even with him sitting out in the 4th, it was shocking to see him net only 13 points, ending a streak of 143 consecutive games where he scored at least 15. The team was plagued by turnovers, and Reggie Jackson was the main culprit, committing 7 by himself.
The Timberwolves were led by Kevin Love, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Thunder fandom aside, it's really good to see K-Love back on the court and I hope he stays healthy. Ricky Rubio also was a primary factor in the loss, recording a double-double with 14 rebounds, 10 assists, and 5 steals.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
I have two basic reactions.
1) The visceral reaction that prompts this kind of tweet:
The broadcasters literally just said "Thunder fans, back away from the ledge, it's only one game"..— Thunder Family (@Thunder_Family) November 2, 2013
For the sake of balance, let us dispense with the caveats:
- It is the 2nd game of the season.
- Russell Westbrook did not play.
- The Timberwolves were a potential playoff team a year ago before injuries all but ended their season. They are loaded with offensive talent, and it was on full display tonight.
- The Wolves always play the Thunder tough, regardless of respective records.
- Reggie Jackson has been dealing with an injured lower back.
- The Thunder allocated minutes to no fewer than 5 players who have 3 seasons of experience or less.
- Lastly, IT IS THE 2ND GAME OF THE SEASON. Funny stuff happens this time of year. To wit, the world champion Heat are now 1-2, the 76ers are 2-0, and the Bobcats won a game. Funny stuff. Weird stuff.
2) As I commented to our man Craig during the rout, this game was sort of like finally relenting to go to the doctor to find out how sick you truly are.
An aside. I have a routine whenever I'm recapping games. After the game is over, I put the outline together, jot down a few notes, and then leave my keyboard. I go to the kitchen, find my inner kwan (usually next to the chocolate-covered almonds), and I mix myself a drink. Sometimes it's an Old Fashioned, sometimes it's a G&T, and other times it's bourbon served neat. I take a sip, empty my brain, and then return to the keyboard.
The point of this routine, aside from the fact that I enjoy bourbon, is that during any NBA game, unless it is a series ending loss, you need to retain some perspective. Consider this - a year ago the Miami Heat lost a game by 36 points in the NBA Finals. Lest you turned the Finals off at that point, Miami didn't just decide to quit, but instead went on to win their 2nd consecutive championship. In the NBA, sometimes games get away from you. The league is as talented as it has ever been, and when one team finds a rhythm and the other team loses theirs, the result can be lopsided.
In the end, I don't worry about the fact that OKC was at one point down 34. What I worry about is how things got to that point.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
The Thunder were outclassed in nearly every aspect of this game. From beginning to end, the Timberwolves exploited all sorts of matchups and Kevin Durant left the game late in the 3rd quarter, never to return.
The Wolves were great on offense, let there be no mistake. The reason why they had such an easy time with the Thunder though had to do with Minny's defensive strategy. Just like the Jazz, the Wolves took a play directly out of the Memphis Grizzlies' playbook from last season's playoffs. This page reads thus - "Fear no man other than Durant until they prove otherwise."
The way this plays out is that every team that has faced OKC since Westbrook has gone down has pressured the Thunder on the perimeter relentlessly and waited for a secondary player to step up and break these hyper-aggressive traps. So far, nobody has stepped up to be that trap-wrecking force that OKC so desperately needs. The Grizz, no offensive savants they, played games close and systematically wore down Durant over 3.5 quarters using this technique. In the end, KD had nothing left to rescue his team in 4 very winnable games that turned out to be 4 losses. In Utah, the likely lottery-bound Jazz used a similar technique and forced KD into a 9-24 shooting night, and Durant was rescued only by an incredible 24 trips to the FT line. On this losing night, the Wolves used this defensive strategy to take OKC out of the game so early that it was effectively over by the end of the 1st quarter, where the Wolves led 34-19.
The Wolves continued to pressure the perimeter relentlessly, and Jackson and Serge Ibaka offered no reason for them to change up the strategy. In the end, Jackson was forced into 7 turnovers and Ibaka struggled to a 2nd poor shooting night, shooting 3-13 from the floor for only 9 points. No matter which personnel OKC had on the court, Minnesota's strategy remained the same and quickly put the game out of reach.
Guess what? We're going to see this strategy again Sunday night against the Suns until the Thunder figure out a way to deal with it.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
There is no shortage of statistics that you can refer to when you try to break down where and when this game went south, but if you're looking for the overall tenor of why OKC collapsed like the Kings in April, look no further than their turnovers.
Turnovers are always a bad thing, the worst kind of turnover is the one that occurs outside the 3-point arc because it means that the capitalizing team almost always has a 2 on 1 fast break opportunity. When your point guard commits 7 of those on his own, it leads to easy transition points on the other end of the court.
Furthermore, I think the turnovers early on really crushed the Thunder's energy on both ends of the court. Courtesy Daily Thunder, check out this defensive breakdown:
This play wasn't just about defensive lack of focus, but an overall lack of team energy from the beginning tip. There might have been a time where OKC could rest on pure talent alone to carry them through games such as this, but that day is not this day. The Thunder have to figure out how to generate the necessary focus, and as Royce Young notes:
A big reason why isn't just that they had Russell Westbrook, which by default makes them much, much better, but also that they missed Westbrook's competitive spirit and never-ending energy. These are exactly the kind of games that Westbrook has bailed the Thunder out in. When everyone else is lethargic and going through the motions, Westbrook is cranking things up and trying to spark the team by himself. Down 20 at the half? Westbrook was an 8-0 run waiting to happen to start the third to kickstart his teammates.
The Thunder, right now, are not an elite team. They have to acquire a different mindset than in years' past, and that mindset is that unless they come with the necessary energy, preparation, and a solution for these aggressive defensive strategies, they are going to continue to look inert offensively and lazy defensively.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
As stated above, sometimes you have to realize that you're sick, and once you realize this fact, you begin to take the appropriate measures.
Was this game bad? Yeah, it was bad. It was really bad, and it doesn't even have much to do with the losing deficit. It was bad because from my perspective, it revealed something both baffling and depressing. That something is that the Thunder had 6 months since Westbrook's injury to figure out a different way to approach things. Six months to figure out how to maximize Durant's effectiveness, resolve that a number of games would necessitate the grind, and how to utilize very young players. From the look of these last two games, very little progress was made.
Confusing me most is the fact that I thought we were watching positive gains during the preseason. Durant was working out of the post more, he was getting into the lane, and he was creating shots for his teammates. Granted, a number of those shots weren't going in, but they were shots that were open. Unfortunately, in these past 6 quarters of play, we have seen none of those gains, and on top of that, the two players who seemed primed for career years in Ibaka and Jackson have fallen apart.
Rookies and 2nd year players are the guys who have to be put in position to succeed. For Lamb, Jones, and Adams, they can go only so far as their veteran teammates take them. For Jackson and Ibaka though? This is their job, to encourage and strengthen their young teammates and to never put them in positions where they feel like they have to go above and beyond what they know in order to compel the team to win.
There are still 80 games to go, so there is no reason now to even consider a panic, but the team needs to realize that winning games in this league and in the Western Conference takes something more than putting out Durant, young players, and no strategy. There is time to learn and the lessons are legion. The question is, what problem will the Thunder see desperate enough to try and fix first?
|Final - 11.1.2013
|Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder Wonder: Jeremy Lamb, 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, 8 points, 8 rebounds in 22 minutes
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, 9 points on 3-13 shooting
Thunder Plunderer: Kevin Love, 24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
Next game: vs the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, Nov. 3rd at 6PM CDT