Balanced Thunder beat Love-less Minnesota 111-103By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer Friday, Mar 25, 2011
On Friday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves got a taste of what the Thunder can be when everyone’s chipping in.
Durant scored 23 points, Westbrook added 19 points while matching a season high with five steals and the Thunder had seven players score in double figures in a 111-103 victory against Minnesota.
“Going into the playoffs, I think we’re going to need everybody,” center Kendrick Perkins(notes) said. “Every night in the playoffs, there’s a certain guy that wins a game for you, that has a big night.
“Whether it’s the first through the 10th man, everybody’s got to be ready because there’s just that one shot.”
Oklahoma City has won 11 of its last 13 and can clinch a playoff berth as early as Sunday. The Thunder got 14 points from Nazr Mohammed(notes) and 13 apiece from Perkins, James Harden(notes) and Nick Collison(notes). Serge Ibaka(notes) added 12 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double in the past four games.
Oklahoma City had a season-high 16 steals, 11 in the second half.
Anthony Randolph(notes) started in place of Kevin Love(notes) for the second straight game and replaced the All-Star’s nightly double-double with 24 points and 15 rebounds for Minnesota. Love was not with the team because of a groin injury.
“I am just trying to fill the void Kevin left,” Randolph said. “I am sure he will pick it back up as soon as he recovers. When he does, I will just come off the bench and help him as much as I can.”
Oklahoma City’s 16-point lead got cut to 82-80 late in the third quarter, but the Thunder pulled back away against the NBA’s worst defense.
Collison corralled the rebound on his own shot beyond the top of the key, then found Durant on the right wing, where he connected with 11.1 seconds left. Durant also hit a buzzer-beater from the left wing.
“That hurt us right there,” Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. “We were right on the cusp of getting ourselves back in the ballgame and we just ran out of gas in the fourth.”
Mohammed scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to bump the lead back up to 93-82 while Minnesota started out 0 for 6. The Timberwolves trailed by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter before scoring the final 10 points in their sixth straight loss.
“We talked in the huddle about guys just kind of helping each other on defense. That’s what it comes down to, when you get stops,” Mohammed said.
“With a team like ours, we’re going to score baskets. We’ve just got to get stops when we need them.”
It was the second time this season the Thunder had seven players score in double figures. The other was in a 126-96 blowout of Sacramento on Feb. 15.
“It’s a good thing,” Westbrook said. “Guys are getting better, and we’re improving as the season goes along.”
Perkins, whose addition at the trade deadline brought the team the experience of someone who’d made it to the NBA finals, said he’d been encouraging Collison to be more aggressive offensively.
It showed in the first 7 minutes of the second quarter, when Collison made all six of his shots and scored 12 points as the Thunder stretched a three-point lead to 52-39 after Harden’s fast-break layup. Oklahoma City’s advantage stretched to 15 a few moments later after Westbrook’s steal and runout layup, and it was 74-58 when Durant scored the last of six straight points by the Thunder on a jumper in the lane with 8:12 left in the third quarter.
“We just need everybody with a high confidence level going into the playoffs,” Perkins added, “so we can just move forward.”
Beasley hit a 3-pointer after a timeout to get Minnesota going again, and he added a 29-footer at the shot-clock buzzer as coach Kurt Rambis yelled at him from across the floor.
Milicic had back-to-back baskets to finish the 17-4 comeback and get Minnesota within 82-80 before Durant struck back.
“I was frustrated,” said Durant, who had missed six of his first seven shots after halftime. “I missed a few chippies, but I shot those with confidence and it gave us some momentum.”
Notes: Rambis wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Love returning Sunday for the start of Minnesota’s three-game homestand against East powers Boston, Chicago and Miami. “I have no idea,” Rambis said. “That’s up to our medical staff to determine. That’s up to him to determine, too.” … The Thunder are 13-2 on Fridays this season. … Oklahoma City has won nine in a row against the Timberwolves.