The gaudy numbers came courtesy of the Timberwolves’ so-called Big 3, with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic posting double-doubles in the same game for the first time ever. But the real work of Minnesota’s surprisingly easy 100-81 victory over West power Oklahoma City came in the trench marked by Kevin Durant‘s path around the court at Target Center.
That’s where Wolves forward Corey Brewer made living in denial a very good thing.
“That was a one-of-a-kind performance by Corey,” new Wolves shooter Kevin Martin said in the locker room afterward. “Memphis did a great job with Durant last year in the playoffs, but what we showed tonight was a special moment for our team. [Brewer] was focused early on. He knew what matchup he had tonight. He knew he was guarding the best offensive player in the league. He showed up.”
Two nights earlier, Durant had scored 42 points in the Thunder’s victory at Utah. Yes, he misfired at a 9-of-24 clip but he also sank 22 of his 24 free throws to score as many points as any four teammates combined.
Against Minnesota, Durant shot 4-of-11 and a more-than-tolerable 4-of-5 from the line in 27 minutes. Serge Ibaka (13) and reserve Jeremy Lamb (15) both got off more shots than Durant, who has missed 10 of 13 3-pointers so far in two games.
The 13 points were the fewest scored by Durant – in defeat, anyway – since before he started winning scoring titles. He had 13 in a Dec. 19, 2009 loss at Houston (and 12 in an OKC victory at Phoenix on Dec. 31, 2011).
“We wanted somebody else to beat us tonight,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We weren’t going to have him get that many looks. I thought Corey really set the tone early in the game. In the third quarter when we thought they were going to come at us aggressively, especially Durant, we did a nice job of keeping him away from the ball and not letting him touch it. When he did catch it, we had someone near him and that’s what we want – somebody near him all the time.”
Durant had 11 points at halftime on 3-of-7 shooting. The Thunder by then were in a 59-39 hole. Then the MVP aspirant scored two points in 10:17 of the third, Minnesota’s lead growing to as much as 28. Brewer wound up plus-13 in the game to Durant’s minus-20.
“On me? It’s not just one guy,” Durant said of Brewer. “Every time I caught it there were two guys guarding me. … One guy is never going to guard me.”
Brewer didn’t pronounce himself “the KD stopper” or anything close to that. But he knows that defense is his greatest asset.
“That’s what I do, you know? They have Kevin Durant, I tried to stop him. We stopped him, we got a win,” Brewer said. “I’m pretty tired.”
If Durant is considered one of the NBA’s unstoppable forces offensively, the Minnesota defense has been one of its unreliable objects. Adding Martin, re-signing Chase Budinger and drafting Shabazz Muhammad all were moves to aid Adelman’s attack, even as the other end of the floor needed as much or more attention. That’s where bringing back Brewer, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2007, mattered.
Last season, the Wolves lost 13 games that they’d led through three quarters. They squandered leads of 10 or more points to lose 18 times. They were getting worse by the end, allowing 100 points or more 30 times in the final 53 games, during which opponents hit 39.1 percent of their 3-pointers. Minnesota ranked 24th in defensive field-goal percentage (.468) and 24th in effective field-goal percentage (.511).
After an admittedly small sample size of two games, but including 27 minutes against a lethal threat, the Wolves rank seventh (.415) and ninth (.462) respectively. Last season, those numbers would have had Minnesota ranked first and second. And nine of the top 10 teams in each category made it to the playoffs (Washington was the exception in both stats).