OKLAHOMA CITY — When Oklahoma City announced 30 minutes before tip-off that forward Kevin Durant would not be playing, the expectations for a scoring fest went out the window. However, neither the Thunder coaches or players realized how much trouble they would have putting the ball through the hoop when they faced a struggling Minnesota Timberwolves squad.
Russell Westbrook scored 18 points, and Serge Ibaka grabbed 19 rebounds to lead the Thunder to a 92-84 victory over the Timberwolves on Monday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I thought there was a peach basket out there for a second,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It wasn’t a good start. But one thing I love about the guys, that we continue to fight, scrap and find ways to get stops. That’s what we did. We turned it into a straight defensive game.”
The Thunder (23-22) ended a two-game losing streak despite playing without an injured Durant. The Wolves (7-37) lost their fifth game in a row.
“We executed and ran our stuff,” Timberwolves forward Thaddeus Young said. “We just didn’t make our shots at certain parts of the game. This is a game of runs and whoever makes the most runs is going to win the game.”
With 5:24 left in the fourth quarter, Minnesota guard Andrew Wiggins drained two free throws to cut the Thunder’s lead to seven. However, Westbrook came back and knocked down a shot high off the backboard.
Young sank a corner jumper for the Wolves, once again Westbrook had the answer. He scored three consecutive points to push Oklahoma City’s advantage to 10 with 3:40 left in the game.
Minnesota guard Mo Williams and Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson exchanged back-to-back 3-pointers before Wiggins hit one of two from the free-throw line.
The backbreaker for the Timberwolves may have come when Oklahoma City guard Anthony Morrow hit a 3-pointer from the corner. Two trips later, Westbrook banked in a jumper, and the Thunder emptied their bench.
“We are moving the ball well,” Westbrook said. “Getting good shots. Defensively, we’re locked in. I think that’s the big thing for us.”
Wiggins led all scorers with 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Young added 22 points, while Wolves forward Gorgui Dieng pulled down 18 rebounds.
Ibaka scored 13 points to go along with his work on the boards. Morrow and Jackson each came off the bench to post 14 points.
As a team, the Thunder shot 4-of-20 from 3-point range and only 66 percent from the free-throw line.
“You have to be able to win games like that,’ Brooks said. “It’s not an easy game.”
After playing a total of seven minutes in Oklahoma City’s previous five games, forward Perry Jones got the start in place of Durant. He finished with six points and three rebounds.
Wiggins drew the defensive assignment of guarding Westbrook in the opening quarter and held the explosive guard to four points.
“I think I did pretty good,” Wiggins said. “He’s a hard player to guard. He missed shots that he usually makes. I just tried to make it rough on him.”
The Wolves had no answer for Ibaka, as the forward poured in eight points and grabbed five rebounds, guiding the Thunder to a 25-19 lead after the first period.
After Oklahoma City built a 15-point advantage, Minnesota was able to whittle it down to eight at halftime behind Wiggins and Young. Minnesota kept feeding Young in the third quarter, and he scored 10 to get his team to within four.
Waiters, Jackson and Morrow spurred the Oklahoma City bench and pushed the margin to nine heading into the fourth quarter.
“They did a good job of playing together,” Westbrook said of the reserves. “Kept the pace high, got to the line and scored in transition.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant was inactive due to a sprained left big toe. He was hurt Sunday in the Thunder’s loss to Cleveland. Monday was the 23rd game this season Durant missed due to injury. … Minnesota F Robbie Hummel sat out Monday after breaking his hand Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks. “I don’t even know. I have to look at the play because it happened so fast,” Hummel said. … Despite not having a single player ranked in the top 30 in rebounding, Oklahoma City leads the lead at 46.5 boards per game. F Serge Ibaka and C Steven Adams lead the team at 7.3 per game. … Even though Thunder F Kevin Durant and G Russell Westbrook weren’t selected to start in the upcoming All-Star Game, Minnesota coach Flip Saunders had a message for them. “We have to let those guys know that when I voted for the All-Stars, they were the No. 1 guy at each position,” Saunders said.
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