Clutch is a term thrown around too loosely. Sometimes setting up the chance by working hard for three quarters is just as important. Jose Juan Barea was the guy who clinched the win for the Minnesota Timberwolves with a huge fourth quarter. Kevin Love, happy or not about his situation, was the guy who made it all possible.
Despite Ricky Rubio only just returning and despite Kevin Love complaining and despite Brandon Roy’s career being all but over, the Timberwolves are doing pretty well. They’re 13-11, winning 8 of their last 12 games. They have Ricky Rubio back, although he’s going to need plenty of time before he becomes the sensational point guard he was for certain moments last season. They have Andrei Kirilenko back, with a much more immediate impact on both ends of the floor for a team that has four point guards but no shooting guards.
More importantly, when you look at the short term, they ruined the Oklahoma City Thunder’s winning streak, beating the hottest team in the NBA 99-93, keeping that win streak at 12. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 63 points, but with a very shot lineup (no Kevin Martin especially), the Thunder’s 1-2 punch simply wasn’t enough for once.
For Kevin Love, it was just another day in the office. He finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists. Special? While those numbers are quite impressive, Love has been pulling double double games like nothing over the last three seasons, with the elbow injury that kept him out earlier this season not having any kind of effect on his game. With his mood looking a bit better now that Rubio is back, the Timberwolves should be considered as one of the top 8 teams in the West.
Not just because of Love and the improved defense once Kirilenko is on the floor. It’s because of guys like Barea and Shved, who can explode and score in double figures in single quarters. Shved finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 12 assists in another impressive game from the Russian rookie, but it was Barea, with only 23 minutes coming off the bench, that took over the game in the fourth quarter.
It’s not that Love didn’t contribute, scoring 5 points in the fourth, as the Thunder tired to make some sort of a comeback. But Barea scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, as the whole concept of the Oklahoma City Thunder being an excellent fourth period defensive team didn’t really hold up. Having to deal in the paint with Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love, Ibaka couldn’t provide the umbrella services he usually can against guys who constantly beat Westbrook on the perimeter.
As for Rubio, it’s going to take time. Less for his body, more for his mind. Getting that confidence in his motion back, not fearing another collision and another torn ligament in his knee. It’s his risky and unpredictable way of playing that make him such a special player, but so far, he’s only scored a total of 8 points in the three games since he made his return.
Russell Westbrook deserves the last mention of the night because of his special statistical line. One of those nights for Westbrook, when he mixes up too much bad with the good. He finished with 9-28 from the field, leading him to 30 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 turnovers, nearly completing a not-so-complementing quadruple-double.