By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — It has been four years since Oklahoma City had lost four regular season games in a row. The franchise had just moved from Seattle and Kevin Durant was in his second year in the league.
The Thunder were on the verge of matching the streak entering Friday when it hosted a struggling Minnesota squad. However, behind 37 points from Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City got back to its winning ways and pulled out a 127-111 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was good to get a win,” Durant said. “We had a tough little stretch there. It happens. I’m glad we were able to get out of that little funk we were in and get a W. We still can be a lot better.”
Even though Oklahoma City came away with the victory, its defense was once again suspect as it allowed a team to score more than 109 points for the fourth straight game. On the season, the Thunder have allowed an average of 97 points per outing.
But Thunder coach Scott Brooks seems to believe the team is just going through a defensive slump.
“There is no question that what we have is not broken,” Brooks said. “It’s just not working at the moment. You need all five guys playing. We have to figure out how to get back to doing that. It always comes down to desire, effort and determination.”
Despite still playing without Kevin Love, the Timberwolves (20-32) were able to keep the game close at times. That included getting within 11 in the fourth quarter behind Andrei Kirilenko and J.J. Barea.
But the T-Wolves had no answer for Westbrook. With Ricky Rubio guarding him, the All-Star guard drove to the rim at will and found ways to make contested layups. Oklahoma City (40-15) pushed its advantage back to 15 and didn’t look back.
“We couldn’t stop them,” Rubio said. “Westbrook had too many easy baskets in the fastbreak. He’s good.”
Westbrook added nine assists and seven rebounds on top of his scoring barrage. Kevin Durant scored 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Kevin Martin came off the bench to chip in with 19 points in the win.
“I was just trying to find the open shots,” Westbrook said. “Whenever they gave me the open shots, I was just trying to stay in attack mode.”
The Timberwolves had seven players score in double figures led by Alexey Shved, who had 17 off the bench. Kirilenko shot only nine times, but posted 15 points.
Oklahoma City’s defensive struggles followed it into the first half against the T-Wolves. After holding Minnesota to 42 -percent shooting and leading by 10 in the first quarter, the T-Wolves raised it to 60 percent and trailed 57-54 with 3:02 left in the first half.
Minnesota had a chance to go into halftime down only five, but Rubio fouled Westbrook with 0.1 of a second on the clock as he attempted a desperation 3-pointer. Westbrook knocked down all three free throws and sent Oklahoma City into the locker room leading 66-58.
Over the past month, the Timberwolves had counted on the front-court combination of Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams to carry them offensively. But Oklahoma City did a good job of limiting their touches in the paint and forced others to score. That finally caught up to Minnesota in the third quarter when its jump shots stopped falling.
Oklahoma City took full advantage behind Durant and Westbrook as it raced out to a 17-point advantage heading into final period.
“We realized we were on a three game losing streak tonight,” Martin said. “We just wanted to come in here and get back to playing how we know how to play.
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