Late in a season that in many ways has seemed so lost, the Timberwolves joined some elite company with Friday’s 101-93 victory over Oklahoma City and, in doing so, moved their coach one triumph closer to doing the same.
Only five teams have beaten the mighty Thunder at least twice this season, and Friday the Wolves joined Miami, San Antonio, Denver and Memphis in the select club by stifling NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant and his teammates down the stretch on a night when Durant made eight of his first nine shots and only made five of his final 10.
In the season’s first meeting between the teams, the Wolves won by six points in a TNT game just before Christmas.
In the season’s final one two days before Easter, they persevered until the end and moved Rick Adelman within three victories of becoming the eighth coach in NBA history to reach 1,000 wins.
Of course, in between they lost twice in Oklahoma City, but …
“We want to get his 1,000th win,” Wolves forward Derrick Williams said. “We want to get him past 1,000.”
They have 11 games left to do so and now are one game closer to that end after a night in which Wolves guard Ricky Rubio kicked an empty chair, slammed a ball down in disgust and his teammates seemed to follow right along with his intensity.
“He did, but he’s got to relax a little bit, too,” Adelman said. “Sometimes he gets his engine going so much and he gets too aggressive. But you love that, because it rubs off on the rest of the guys.”
It rubbed off on starting center Nikola Pekovic, who followed along with a 22-point, 15-rebound performance in which he and reserve forward Dante Cunningham combined for all of an 8-0 fourth-quarter run.
That burst turned a three-point lead into a 92-81 bulge with five minutes left from which the Thunder never recovered.
The Thunder never recovered because of a Wolves defense that limited it to 6-for-18 shooting in the fourth quarter. Included were six consecutive possessions during that 8-0 run when Oklahoma City didn’t score.
Andrei Kirilenko made Durant work for most of his 10 points in the fourth quarter and his 36 points for the game, and Kirilenko and Rubio each provided individual defensive plays in the final three minutes that kept the ball out of Durant’s hands before he could do something damaging with it.
“He’s amazing,” Rubio said. “Seemed like unstoppable at the beginning of the game, seemed like he could make any shot he wanted, even if it was great defense. He was like a scoring machine. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen like that.”
When Kirilenko didn’t pester Durant in the second half, Cunningham did on a night when he left the game to get his injured hand X-rayed in the second quarter but returned to provide a telling fourth-quarter boost.
“Thank goodness he played the second half,” Adelman said.
The Wolves scored 100 points for the fourth time in five games against a Thunder team that had allowed 80 and 83 in its past two times out in home victories over Portland and Washington.
“It’s just a little bump in the road,” Durant said of a team that’s chasing San Antonio for the Western Conference lead.
The Wolves have another chance Saturday against Memphis to get Adelman one victory closer to 1,000, with a team that seems to have found some inspiration now that Chase Budinger is back from knee surgery and Pekovic and Kirilenko again are healthy.
“I wish we could have gotten it a long time ago for him,” Wolves guard Luke Ridnour said. “I just wish we could have had everybody [healthy] all year. It would have been a different story.”