So last night, the Thunder were totally creamed by the Timberwolves, and everyone's totally overreacting. It's true that the Thunder, generally, aren't blown out by such a large amount. But last night's game was no reason to panic. There were definite problems with the Thunder, but none of them were directly related to Russell Westbrook's absence. You could say he would've provided a general offensive spark, gotten more players open, or netted a few steals. But, even with his presence, I doubt tonight's game would have been a win.
Anyway, let's break down this loss. Here's 6 reasons that the Thunder lost last night.
Reggie Jackson was Out of Control
I'm going to break this down specifically in another post, but I'll just talk in generalities for now. Basically, Reggie Jackson suffered from decision-making problems from the get-go. I can remember 3 or 4 specific occasions where he worked really hard to get past his defender and dribbled the ball straight into the middle of the lane, but didn't gather for a shot. Basically, he stuck himself in no-man's land. He was too close to the basket for a jumper, but too far from the basket for a layup. On all occasions, RJ turned the ball over, and Minnesota capitalized.
Jackson had some problems keeping his composure, as well. Two separate instances saw him fall victim to an offensive foul. One of them was on a fast-break pass that would've otherwise led to a score, and the other one came from behind the half-court line. Both were totally unnecessary and could've easily been avoided if Reggie paid more attention to what he was doing. There were other signs that he just wasn't mentally there, as well. His defense on Rubio was pretty sketchy at times, leaving Rubio open for a few shots. Plus, he hurled up a ton of threes from way too far behind the line. There's no reason for him to take those shots, especially when he can barely hit a corner three with any sort of consistency.
Perk Gets Into Foul Trouble, Bringing in Adams Early
If I had to name a Thunder Wonder for tonight, Kendrick Perkins would come pretty close to taking that award. He was actually playing pretty admirable defense against Nikola Pekovic, and had a small offensive surge in the third quarter that could've brought the Thunder back into this game. But, ultimately, Perk can't win that award, because he exited the first quarter way too early. Biting on a Kevin Love pump fake and setting a moving screen sent Perk out of the game after less than three minutes of action, leaving Steven Adams to guard Nikola Pekovic.
The result was a complete disaster. Adams kicked things off by setting a screen for Reggie Jackson into the corner and not rolling to the rim, resulting in a near turnover. He treaded water for a while after that, but basically gifted the Timberwolves a six point swing late in the first. His first transgression was fouling Nikola Pekovic off the ball, before the T-Wolves offense had even begun running a play. Because the Timberwolves were in the bonus, they got two free points at the line. A few plays later, Adams ran out to defend/trap Ricky Rubio on a simple screen, leaving Pekovic wide open under the rim. Two more points. Lastly, one play later, Adams did exactly the same thing again. The only difference this time was that Rubio was able to draw a mismatch with Adams on the perimeter and easily draw a foul. Two more points for the Wolves.
Serge Ibaka Threw Up Some Bad Shots
First of all, let's make one thing clear: Serge Ibaka was shooting terribly from the get-go. He nearly airballed a couple of wide open jumpers. But adding on top of that terrible shooting was some terrible decision making by Ibaka. Some of the shots that he threw up were downright mind-boggling. While going one-on-one with Kevin Love about 12 feet away from the basket, Serge decided to throw up a teardrop shot. Eric Maynor could barely hit those while wide open, so I don't see how Ibaka could hit one while right in Kevin Love's grill. But it doesn't stop there. Again against Kevin Love, about 10 feet away from the basket, Ibaka pulled off a sweeping sky hook, with his arm far away from his body. He was totally out of control, and the shot he took probably has something like a 5% success rate. Furthermore, while going against Dieng in the post, Ibaka tried to almost fingerroll a shot into the hoop while running the baseline in full stride. It's hard to picture if you're not seeing the play, but I don't know if KD could have pulled off the move that Ibaka attempted there.
It's clear that Ibaka is trying to make the move from shot taker to shot creator. But when he's not hitting the shots that he's getting, it's hard to imagine the defense respecting anything else he does offensively. Especially when the shots that he's taking while playing his defender are impossibly difficult. Personally, I think he needs to develop some go-to moves that get him easy points before he gets really creative. But I've been saying that for a long time now, so who knows.
Help Defense was Non-Existant, Wolves Attack the Weak Side
One serious advantage that the Wolves have on their side is the presence of two shot-creators at center and power forward. If they're scoring, like they were in this game, it can create some big space in the paint. Last night was a perfect example of that, as Ibaka, Perkins, Collison, and Adams were all extremely reluctant to leave their defenders. I'm not absolving the perimeter defenders of blame, as they straight up lost their matchup on a few occasions. (Perry Jones III totally lost Derrick Williams twice.) But when Timberwolves players were able to roll to the basket incredibly easily on so many occasions, the blame has to lie with the bigs.
The problem was particularly bad during the third quarter. The Timberwolves effectively clinched the game during that time with a 6-0 run that put them up by 24. Two of the scores during this run were textbook cases of the above, with a simple screen totally neutralizing the perimeter defender and seeing a T-Wolf run straight to the rim. The Thunder took a timeout after those two plays and adjusted, but the very next play saw Ibaka sag off Pekovic near the free throw line, in an attempt to shut down the lane. Pekovic took advantage, and nailed a wide-open jumper.
This is kind of part of the Perkins/Adams saga above, but I'd say the problem had farther-reaching effects. The Timberwolves were able to grab 19 free throws in the first half, and 8 more during the third quarter. Of those 27 free throws, the Timberwolves missed two. The great shooting from the line is something that's entirely out of the Thunder's control, but how they got there entirely was. Adams' bad fouls combined with Perk's bad fouls/moving screen and RJ's charging calls really didn't do anything to help the team's cause. Even Nick Collison committed an off-ball foul while the Wolves were in the bonus. When things like that happen, you know it's just not your day.
Open Shots Weren't Going In
I've avoided channeling my inner Al Eschbach and shouting "Players have to make plays" over the microphone. But really, that's what a lot of this loss comes down to. I'd argue that the Thunder's first half failings had more to do with other problems, but a lot of what happened in the third quarter definitely came down to the Thunder missing a lot of makeable shots. I'll go on the record saying that if this problem was fixed, the Thunder still wouldn't have come close to winning, but it's definitely a part of the loss. Just not as big a part as you might like to think.
At the end of the day, the Timberwolves had our number. All of these problems will probably exist in one form or another throughout the season, but it's extremely doubtful that they'll all surface so obviously against most teams. Quick players like Rubio and Barea, along with heavy trapping, are the perfect counter to the Thunder's slow ball movement. Furthermore, the presence of shot creators in the post really exposes the Thunder's physical and partially inexperienced interior defense. Combine all that with a bad shooting night from KD and Ibaka, and you've got the perfect recipe for a blowout. And no, Westbrook's presence wouldn't have changed any of those things.
I'm not optimistic about the Thunder's ability to combat the Wolves in the future, especially considering that our only victories against them last year came while Kevin Love was injured. But every team has their nemesis, and the Timberwolves certainly aren't unbeatable.
What do you think about the loss? Let us know in the comments!