Wolves play to top of their ability — even defensively — in upset of OKC

MINNEAPOLIS — Vast potential, packed into a 6.9-second window.

Desperately seeking to provide Oklahoma City some semblance of momentum, Kevin Durant misfired on a contested 3-pointer. Kevin Love tore down the rebound, led Ricky Rubio with an arching outlet pass, then watched his ace point guard bounce a perfect helper to a loping Nikola Pekovic.

The big man lay home two of his 15 points on the night to give the Timberwolves a 59-37 lead with 17 seconds left in the second quarter of Friday night’s Thunder thrashing. He also provided 17,433 spectators the finishing touches on a depiction of what Minnesota’s roster is built to do.

The Timberwolves’ 100-81 victory, albeit a singular game, was a similar work.

“They kicked our butt,” Durant said.

In felling a legitimate — and shorthanded, to be fair — NBA championship contender, Love and Pekovic controlled both lanes on the Target Center hardwood. Rubio was himself (10 assists) and then some (14 points and a pair of 3-pointers).

And, led by the guy they signed to limit opposing alpha-dog scorers, the Timberwolves (2-0) didn’t just limit professional basketball’s best pure scorer; they came as close to shutting down Durant as has been possible the past few years.

The absence of sidekick point guard Russell Westbrook helped considerably.

“Obviously, they had Westbrook missing,” Adelman said. “We wanted someone else to beat us tonight. We weren’t gonna allow (Durant) to get that many looks. I thought Corey (Brewer) really set the tone early in the game.”

Facing Brewer to start and later Derrick Williams — who made his season debut after enduring a did-not-play in Wednesday’s opener — backed by a heavy dose of help-side defense, Durant made four field goals. Six Timberwolves players connected on that many or more.

Durant’s 4-for-11, 13-point outing was his lowest-scoring since Dec. 31, 2011 against Phoenix.

Before donning his street clothes and conversing with reporters, Brewer sat in front of his locker and perused a print-out of the box score. He didn’t sport that trademark grin that goes back to his rookie days in Minnesota.

It was a much more intense expression as the free-agent signee realized just what his new old squad is capable of.

“It can be a long night for other teams,” Brewer said. “I feel like if we can play defense like that, we’re gonna be a tough team to beat.”

Brewer said several times before Friday’s game that stopping Durant is impossible. His goal was to hold him to 20. Yet the three-time scoring champ himself looked awfully rattled after he got off to a slow start and rarely got an open look at the basket.

“Every time I caught the ball, I had two guys guarding me,” said Durant, who scored 42 points in the Thunder’s season-opening win against Utah. “Not one guy is ever going to guard me.”

Aside from pestering Durant, Adelman’s strategy was to make life heck for point guard Reggie Jackson, Westbrook’s fill-in while he rehabs from surgery to repair a damaged meniscus. Rubio took care of that, nabbing five steals and helping hold Jackson to eight points and four assists.

Minnesota held Oklahoma City to 34.9 percent — the franchise’s lowest ever against the Timberwolves — from the floor, scored 25 points off 21 turnovers while limiting its giveaway total to 16, and outgunned the Kendrick Perkins- and Serge Ibaka-led Thunder 44-20 in the paint.

Not bad for a team with serious preseason questions surrounding its ability to limit opposing attacks.

“I think we have the ability to defend people,” Adelman said. “If we follow the game plan and everybody works at it and they stay within what we’re trying to do, we’ll be OK.”

Friday night, defense was only half the story. Love (24 points, 12 rebounds), Pekovic (15, 10) and Rubio each tallied a double-double in the same game for the third time in their careers. Together, they constructed a 19-9 run over the final 6 minutes, 15 seconds of the first quarter.

From the 2:53 mark on, Minnesota led by double digits.

A second-tier lineup of Williams (10 points), J.J. Barea (10), Alexey Shved (seven), Dante Cunningham and Gorgui Dieng kept the advantage comfortable. The starters reentered late in the second, then went on to outscore the Thunder (1-1) 29-21 in the third quarter and 11-5 during early in the fourth to mount a 34-point lead, the Timberwolves’ largest of the night.

There was no lull like the one that allowed Orlando to come back from 17 down and force overtime Wednesday.

“We have one of the best bench teams in the NBA,” said Williams, who had seven boards and 10 points, including a pair of two-handed jams in the second frame. “I think so. We have a lot of sparkplugs on this team. … We did a good job of not letting (Oklahoma City) catch up.”

Said Brewer: “It’s better to learn from a win than to learn from a loss, and we knew tonight, once you get up, you’ve got to keep it on them.”

They did. By the end, rookie forwards Shabazz Muhammad and Robbie Hummel had made their NBA debuts along with Dieng, who came in at 10:17 in the second quarter when Ronny Turiaf exited with a right elbow contusion and didn’t return.

The only missing ingredient was Kevin Martin. The shooting guard went 4-for-11 for nine points against his former team and drew a technical foul in the second quarter after complaining about no-calls against him.

All told, an afterthought.

“It’s early,” Adelman said. “It’s two games, and we played a really nice game tonight. I just think what it’s got to do, it’s got to show them that when we play as a team at both ends, we can play with anybody. But it’s got to be constant effort all the way through.

“It’s something we felt that we could do, and the guys went out and did it.”

Minnesota turns its gaze toward a road back-to-back against New York on Sunday and Cleveland on Monday after starting 2-0 for the first time since 2006-07. Ultimately, Pekovic said, that’s all Friday night was — a solid commencement.

But any sign of encouragement is a notable one for a team that won 31 games last year.

“It’s still very early to talk about anything,” Pekovic said. “I’m really happy we win first two games, but still, I think it’s early to talk about something more. We was talking during the game on the bench like, ‘It’s a great job.’ I hope we’ll just approach every game like this game.”

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