New Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin watched his Oklahoma City team play more than 100 games a season ago and never witnessed what he saw in Friday’s 100-81 victory over the Thunder at Target Center.
Two nights after they led Orlando by 18 points but still needed overtime to win, they held Thunder superstar Kevin Durant to the fewest points — 13, on 4-for-11 shooting — he has scored in a game since New Year’s Eve 2011.
Martin called starting small forward Corey Brewer’s individual effort and the Wolves’ collective defense against Durant and a Thunder team missing injured star Russell Westbrook a “one-of-a-kind performance” for a team whose defense clearly is its biggest question.
“Memphis did a great job on Durant last year in the playoffs,” Martin said, referring to the Thunder’s second-round loss. “But what we showed tonight, that was a special moment for our team, knowing defense was our weak spot going into the season.”
The Wolves opened the season 2-0 for only the fifth time in the franchise’s 25 seasons and the first time since 2006-07, when Kevin Garnett played for them. They led by as many as 31 points, never letting the Thunder get within single digits after the game’s first nine minutes, never letting Durant become a factor only two nights after he shot 24 free throws and scored 42 of his team’s 101 points in a season-opening victory at Utah.
“We wanted somebody else to beat us tonight,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said about a game when his own Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic each recorded a double- double.
Brewer probably worked harder in 21 minutes Friday than he did playing 40 in Wednesday’s opener. He used his determination and long arms against Durant all night, contesting him at every turn for a team that did the same with another helping defender every time Durant did catch the ball.
“That’s what I do, you know?” Brewer said. “They have Kevin Durant. I tried to stop him. We stopped him. We got a win.”
The Thunder is playing the season’s opening weeks without Westbrook, their All-Star point guard who has had the same sort of complications with knee meniscus surgery that Wolves forward Chase Budinger has had.
Without him, the Thunder looked like Durant and 12 Other Guys on Friday, thanks in good measure to a Wolves defense that forced 21 turnovers and turned them into 25 points. Durant took just 11 shots, opting instead often to find his teammates when the Wolves sent a second defender at him. His teammates made 25 of 72 shots, for 34 percent.
When asked about Brewer’s effort, Durant said, “On me? It’s not just one guy. Every time I caught it, there were two guys guarding me. So I have to kick it to my teammates. So I have to make better decisions in that area. But one guy is never going to guard me.”
The Wolves scored 59 points in the first half and 88 by the end of three quarters, illustrating that, yes, their offense isn’t going to be an issue. Defense is another matter, but the Wolves answered that Friday, if only for a night. Adelman did caution afterward that “it’s early, just two games.”
“I was telling somebody, if we play defense like that, we’re in for a fantastic year,” Martin said.