The Wolves were not supposed to win this game, and like most other games the Wolves are not supposed to win, they did not win it. In the first half, Minnesota was cruising on offense behind the hot shooting of Kevin Martin. However, continued struggles defending the paint led to their first-half lead — which grew as high as 11 late in the second quarter — dropping to just 3 at the half.
The best defense of the night came when rookie Gorgui Dieng shared the floor with Dante Cunningham and Luc Mbah a Moute. They blew up ball screens with hard hedges and rotated fast enough to force turnovers. The pesky defense carried over into some transition offense. It was fun to watch. Obviously, this is a pure bench unit that can’t play high minutes, but it was somewhat interesting that Coach Adelman didn’t play Gorgui again in the second half, when stops were so difficult to come by. In two consecutive games, Gorgui has proven helpful in short bursts of defense-focused play.
As the game wore on, the tail-end-of-the-back-to-back factor took its toll on the Wolves. It seemed that right as the Thunder upped its collective defensive intensity (read: hand check a lot) the Wolves began to tire, and miss shots. After a hot start, Martin finished just 6-16 from the field. He scored 24 points in a (-8) effort. The Thunder committed 8 more fouls than the Wolves. (22 to 14.) While the additional free throws obviously helped the Wolves score points, it was another game where the opponent’s physical, aggressive defense seemed more effective than the Wolves careful style which too often leads to quick, unimpeded, bang-bang sequences ending with an open dunk. As time goes on, I wonder if the careful, foul averse style is the best way for this team. Tonight, the Wolves shot 17 more free throws than the Thunder. But the Thunder shot 56.3 percent from the field versus Minnesota’s 41.6. I suppose the Wolves have some obvious physical limitations that turn defense into something of a “pick your poison” proposition. They’re doing surprisingly well by the numbers on that end of the floor, but it seems to be getting worse as they face better teams.
Ricky Rubio repeated a bad habit by picking up two early, silly fouls. The Wolves were (+9) with Ricky on the floor tonight and (-19) with him off it. Even with the foul trouble, Adelman probably should’ve found more than 29 minutes for his by-far-best point guard. The Wolves were (-16) with JJ out there, who was at his worst.
Saving the best for last: Kevin Durant. He was incredible tonight, scoring an efficient 32 points and registering a triple double. There isn’t much he can’t do. He’s not the all-around playmaker that LeBron James is, but his style might be more fun to watch for those of us that appreciate great scoring.
Next game is Wednesday in Mexico City versus the Spurs. Until then.
Season Record: 9-10