Timberwolves power past Oklahoma City
MINNEAPOLIS — Nikola Pekovic had 22 points and 15 rebounds and Ricky Rubio added 17 points and seven assists to help the Minnesota Timberwolves stun the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-93 on Friday night.
Chase Budinger scored 13 points off the bench and Andrei Kirilenko played superb defense on Thunder star Kevin Durant in the second half to help the Wolves deal the Thunder an unexpected setback in their pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Durant had 36 points and seven rebounds, but was just 4 for 9 in the final 22 minutes. Russell Westbrook added 18 points and nine assists for the Thunder, who entered the night 1½ games behind the San Antonio Spurs in the West.
If the Thunder aren’t able to catch the Spurs in the final 10 games, they could look to this game as one they will regret. The Wolves had just 25 wins on the season, tied for second fewest in the West, having suffered through a litany of injuries. They were playing without Olympian Kevin Love, who has missed most of the season with a broken right hand.
So they used Pekovic’s broad shoulders and Dante Cunningham’s grit to get a surprising victory, one that moved coach Rick Adelman three away from 1,000 for his career.
With Minnesota leading 84-81 early in the fourth, Pekovic bulled to the basket for two layups and Cunningham, who was playing with a bruised shooting hand, hit a jumper and converted a tough layup in traffic for a 92-81 lead.
The Thunder got as close as five points down the stretch, but Pekovic held them off with a putback that pushed the lead back to 96-87 with 1:34 to go. Westbrook was just 7 for 17 from the floor and Durant was relatively quiet after a 9-for-10 start.
Oklahoma City has nine games remaining to make up for it. Getting that No. 1 seed is very much a goal for these Thunder, who want to play as many games as possible in front of their raucous home fans in the playoffs. It was in Oklahoma City last year when the series against the Spurs turned so dramatically. Down 2-0 to San Antonio and in serious danger of being swept by the veteran Spurs, the Thunder exploded for a 20-point win in Game 3 at home. That gave them the confidence and momentum, and they reeled off three more in a row to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since moving from Seattle.
Seven of Pekovic’s 15 boards came on the offensive end and the Wolves committed just 11 turnovers to get the win.
Notes: Love’s doctors in New York conferred with Timberwolves doctors on his hand. He was not given clearance to resume contact work and will be evaluated again next week. There is still not timetable for his return. ... Give J.J. Barea points for ingenuity. In the second quarter, the 5-foot-10 PG was met at the top of the key by the 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet. With nowhere to go, Barea tried to go between Thabeet’s legs. He didn’t quite make it, and Reggie Jackson was called for a foul on the play. ... Derek Fisher hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter to snap an 0-for-19 skid from the field.