Thunder overpower Timberwolves
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook scored 37 points, Kevin Durant added 27 and the Oklahoma City Thunder snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 127-111 on Friday night.
The Thunder avoided losing four in a row for the first time since April 2009, near the end of their first season in Oklahoma City, but made little progress in getting their defense back in order.
They had allowed 113.7 points per game during the losing streak and were just a basket better against Minnesota, instead relying on an offense that regained the NBA lead in scoring average.
Alexey Shved led Minnesota with 17 points, and Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham had 15 points apiece. The Timberwolves shot 53 percent in the first half but couldn’t keep up that pace and wound up hitting on 43 percent after halftime.
Oklahoma City, which hit all 22 of its free throws, doubled its lead by scoring the first six points of the second half and then used a couple more bursts during the third quarter to start opening the gap.
Kendrick Perkins hit a jumper in the lane to finish a string of seven straight Thunder points, making it 87-70 midway through the third. Then, after an immediate 9-0 response by Minnesota, Westbrook had three buckets during an 8-0 flurry by Oklahoma City to push the lead right back to 16.
The Timberwolves never got closer than nine after that, cutting it to 120-111 on Luke Ridnour’s two free throws with 1:40 remaining.
Kevin Martin had 19 points off the bench for the Thunder, who went 9 for 14 from 3-point range.
J.J. Barea scored 12 of his 14 in the first half, Greg Stiemsma and Ricky Rubio had 13 apiece and Ridnour 10 as Minnesota put seven players in double figures even without leading scorer Nikola Pekovic getting there.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks had no doubt what’s gone wrong with Oklahoma City during a midseason swoon that came on suddenly after a run of four straight wins by at least 20 points that matched a franchise record.
“It’s pretty easy to pinpoint. It’s defense,” Brooks said before the game. “If you take the last three games and you throw it into all the league stats, we’re probably last in every category.”
Neither team put up much resistance in the first half, with both teams shooting over 60 percent through the first 21½ minutes before a stretch when Minnesota missed six out of seven shots to allow Oklahoma City to expand its lead to 66-58 at halftime.
The Thunder led by as many as 13 midway through the second quarter, but the Timberwolves were able to trim the deficit to 57-54 after making 10 of 11 attempts from the field. In the first half, Minnesota’s reserves were a combined 16 for 18 from the field and the team overall was 23 for 43 (53 percent).
Oklahoma City clamped down a bit to start to create some breathing room, and Minnesota went just 12 of 30 to start the second half while falling further behind.
Notes: After trading away Eric Maynor, Oklahoma City is down to only two point guards on the roster. If Westbrook and backup Reggie Jackson both get into foul trouble, Brooks said he likes the option of putting Durant at the point. “He’s actually handled the ball more this year, bringing the ball up. As his career continues to evolve, he’s going to be a point forward,” Brooks said. “And I think this year — even a little bit last year, but this year more — hopefully next year it’s going to be even more. It just helps all of us. It takes the pressure off our ball-handlers when he’s able to bring up the ball.” ... Brooks said new addition Ronnie Brewer should get in a film session during practice Saturday. ... The Thunder are the league’s top foul shooting team.