Wolves’ Win as Stingy Defense Holds Thunder Offense in Check


Mar 27, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio (9) and center Nikola Pekovic (14) battle for a rebound with Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) in the fourth quarter at Target Center. Lakers won 120-117. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly, the Timberwolves have the Thunder’s number. Okay, maybe not. But they do at Target Center at least, that’s for sure. The Thunder just can’t seem to figure out how to win there. Well, at least over their last two games. So that’s something.

Friday night’s tilt was all kind of entertaining for fans of the hometown squad. Ricky Rubio was scoring and assisting and stealing, Nikola Pekovic was going full-Pek on poor Kendrick Perkins (I don’t actually feel bad for him), and the bench was all kinds of solid. Not to mention the defense….we have not seen defense like this from the Wolves since early in the season.

Despite Rubio picking up his second personal foul before the five minute mark in the first quarter, the Wolves managed to head into the second frame tied at a 23-23 score with the defending Western Conference Champions. The physicality of the game picked up, with some pushing, shoving, and grappling between J.J. Barea and Greg Stiemsma and their Thunder counterparts, Kevin Martin and the Thunder frontcourt.

The Wolves’ streaky bench unit (obviously bolstered by the return of Chase Budinger, as well as the return of Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko to the starting lineup) has been very good of late, and outplayed Oklahoma City’s reserves on Friday night. The trend began in the second quarter and continued throughout the game.

The home team maintained their lead throughout the second half, largely due to their advantage on the offensive glass and second chance points. Not to mention Pekovic, who spent the third quarter annihilating the Thunder down low. He managed a double-double before the end of the frame, and also saddled Perkins with serious foul trouble.

The Wolves’ defensive intensity increased as the minutes ticked off the clock, and the rotations were as good as they have been all season long. Kirilenko’s defense on Durant kicked up a notch, and the W’lves’ backcourt did a stellar job in trapping Durant inside the arc and forcing him to swing the ball. Martin shot just 1 of 9 for the game, including 0 of 4 from three-point range, and Russell Westbrook had a decidedly average game as well, shooting 7 of 17 from the field and just 3 of 5 from the line.

In the fourth quarter, the Wolves’ moved the ball beautifully in the opening minutes, opening up an eleven-point lead at 92-81 midway through the period before being mired in a miserable scoring drought. The Wolves did not convert a field goal for nearly four minutes, and still somehow maintained an eight-point lead with 1:34 remaining. Kirilenko’s defense on Durant and the Wolves’ overall team defense made this possible, and the Wolves hit their free throws in the closing minute to seal the victory.

Some quick thoughts….

–  Rubio played very, very well. His line: 17 points, 7 assists, 4 steals, and just 2 turnovers in 30 minutes is impressive, especially considering his direct competition was Westbrook. He made Westbrook work to get up his 17 shots, and forced him into only converting on 7 of them. His clean steal of the Thunder point guard in the final half-minute capped off the win in style.

–  Most impressive: the mighty Thunder offense managed to score just 16 points in the final frame. Again: the team defense and overall defensive rotations were fantastic. Kirilenko and Budinger’s combined effort on Durant was absolutely commendable, and even just having Chase’s size on the defensive boards was a huge advantage that helped the Wolves keep the Thunder from having too many second chances to do damage late in the game.

– Pekovic’s line: 22 points on 10 of 16 from the field to go along with 15 rebounds and just 1 turnover in 36 minutes. Big Perk? Just 1 of 3 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 4 turnovers in 26 minutes. Oh, and he fouled out. Pek = winner.

– The Wolves will host the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night at 7:00 CST as the second half of a very tough back-to-back.