Kevin Durant was determined Wednesday night that the Oklahoma City Thunder would surpass their 23 total wins from last year.
The refs, with 13 seconds left in the game, determined – incorrectly, based on replays – that a ball went out of bounds off Al Jefferson, rather than the Thunder’s Jeff Green.
The result was the end of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ two-game home winning streak, as the Wolves fell to the Thunder 94-92 at the Target Center. Minnesota fell to 9-34 on the season, while Oklahoma City improved to 24-18, including 12-9 on the road.
Minnesota got a chance to tie the game, getting a chance for one last inbounds play with 2.2 seconds left, after Corey Brewer was fouled going to the rim. However, the Wolves couldn’t create any good looks and Jonny Flynn’s wild three pointer couldn’t do any better than bounce off the rim.
A tie would have capped yet another comeback for the Wolves, who rallied from a 20-point deficit in their last game, against Philadelphia. Minnesota trailed 94-86 with 2:12 remaining in the game and behind Jefferson and Flynn, pulled the Wolves to within two.
Although Big Al and the rookie scored Minnesota’s final 14 points, it was Brewer who was on fire for Minnesota. He scored a team-high 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. At times, it seemed he was able to hit from anywhere on the floor, and was able to find success driving to the basket.
However, his counterpart on the Thunder was just a bit better that night.
Durant led all scorers with 31 points and also chipped in 10 rebounds and three assists. The third-year forward was unstoppable at times, using his size and speed to drive to the rim, and more importantly, draw fouls. Durant was a perfect 11-for-11 from the free throw line, making more free throws than Minnesota even attempted.
The disparity at the charity stripe was the key difference in the game, with Oklahoma City going 18-for-21 on free throw attempts, while Minnesota went 9-for-10. The Wolves showed a reluctance to go to the rim throughout the game, and by the end, the Thunder still had fouls to give, meaning Brewer’s drawn foul on his late layup attempt only gave Minnesota the ball back, rather than extra shots.
No time was the lack of inside presence more apparent than a six-minute stretch in the third quarter where the Wolves went scoreless. Seemingly content to take poor shots from outside, Minnesota went 0-for-6 from the field in that span. The Thunder more than took advantage, turning a 63-59 Wolves lead into a 74-67 advantage, thanks to a 15-0 run.
Down 55-51 at the half, Minnesota got the first basket of the third quarter when Damien Wilkins took a long pass from Ryan Gomes up court for a crowd-pleasing dunk. He got his second highlight play of the night less than two minutes later. With Flynn dribbling along the Oklahoma City baseline, Wilkins took a no-look pass from the guard and threw down a monstrous dunk over the Thunder’s Nenad Krstic.
Wilkins finished with 15 points on the night. Jefferson finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds, though he scored just eight points and had one rebound in the second half. Flynn got most of his points in the last stretch of the fourth quarter and ended up with 10 points and eight assists.
Green (15) and rookie James Harden (12) scored in double figures to back up Durant, while Russell Westbrook had nine points and nine assists. But it was all Durant for the Thunder down the stretch. The third-year player extended his streak of 25+ point games to 16.
Despite losing, there were some positives for Minnesota. Although Flynn was invisible for much of the game, his eight points in the last six minutes were crucial to the Wolves’ comeback hopes. Though overall it wasn’t an impressive game for the rookie, his ability to elevate his game when it mattered was good to see.
Also good was Brewer showing more flashes of potential greatness. Wednesday marked his seventh 20-point game of the season, and his third in the past five games. More consistency would be nice – in Monday’s win over Philly, he had just seven points – but Brewer has shown the promise this season that the Wolves hoped to see when they drafted him.