Two games into the season, and it is clear that Russell Westbrook’s knee injury has taken the swagger and ferocity right out of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The last team in the NBA that will have any sympathy for the Thunder is the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are showing signs of putting everything together after two years of devastating injuries.
Kevin Love had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Ricky Rubio added 14 points, 10 assists and five steals to lead the Timberwolves to a 100-81 victory over the Thunder on Friday night.
Nikola Pekovic had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota and Corey Brewer led a spirited defensive effort against Kevin Durant. Derrick Williams had 10 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota after not playing in the opener.
Durant scored 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting and had trouble finding clean looks against a Timberwolves team that was supposed to be porous on defense. But the Thunder shot 35 percent and turned the ball over 21 times to get run out of the building.
”We can be very good,” Love said when asked how good the team can be if it plays that kind of defense. ”We can be very good. But I’ve learned not to look too far into the future. I just want to take it day by day.”
After scoring 42 in the season opener against Utah, Durant scored his fewest points since Dec. 31, 2011 when he had 12 against Phoenix. Jeremy Lamb was the only other Thunder player in double figures with 16, and it has become abundantly clear very early in the season how much they miss Westbrook.
”If they play one-on-one, I felt like I had the better matchup. But every time I caught it there was two guys guarding me, so I’ve got to kick to my teammates,” said Durant, who had four turnovers. ”I’ve got to make better decisions in that area.”
The Thunder offense has lacked its usual punch with the fiery Westbrook sidelined indefinitely.
”Them not having Westbrook, that’s taking away 25 (points), seven (rebounds) and six (assists) or some crazy number like that,” Love said. ”It’s a whole different dynamic when they have Westbrook on the team. ”
Westbrook or no Westbrook, it was a bit of a statement for the Wolves, who enter this season with hopes of getting to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They led by 34 points, allowing coach Rick Adelman to rest his starting five for the entire fourth quarter.
The Timberwolves shot poorly in the first half as well, but they used some opportunistic defense and made good at the free throw line to build a 20-point lead. They made 18 of 19 shots at the foul line while Durant, Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams piled up the fouls early.
The Wolves, who figured to struggle on the defensive end this season without a true shot-blocker in the paint, forced 13 turnovers in the first half, which led to 19 points.
”We know we can score,” Rubio said. ”But when we (play) defense, we’re a different team.”
Williams blocked two shots and the Wolves made Durant work for his touches while limiting his shot attempts. The Thunder star was just 2 for 5 from the field in the first 26 minutes, and it looked at times like he was deferring to his younger role players to try to get them involved.
All it did was dig the Thunder a bigger hole.
The Wolves offense got clicking midway through the second quarter with a 21-9 run that ended on a beauty of a no-look, wraparound bounce pass from Rubio to Pekovic in transition for a 59-37 lead.
”I’m worried about guys playing hard, competing hard and playing for your team every time down the court, and tonight that wasn’t the case,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ”But it’s early. We’ve got a game right around the corner and we’ve got to play much better.”
Notes: Timberwolves C Ronny Turiaf left the game in the second quarter after taking a nasty spill while fighting for a rebound against the Thunder’s Nick Collison. He was diagnosed with a right elbow contusion and did not return. … The Thunder head back to Oklahoma City for their home opener against Phoenix on Sunday. … Martin finished with nine points.