What’s left for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season? Spoil it for other teams, while trying to get as much cohesion and clarity regarding the guys who’ll still be with the team next season. The first name on that list is Ricky Rubio, who played his part as giant slayer, denting a huge and possibly final blow to the Oklahoma City Thunder, still trying to win the number one seed in the Western Conference.
Rubio wasn’t alone. Getting Nikola Pekovic back has certainly leveled the competition for the shorthanded Timberwolves, who seem to be getting healthy a bit too late for it to matter in terms of their playoff aspirations. They’re 4-4 since Pekovic returned in mid-March, and their Montenegrin center had a huge performance in the paint with 22 points and 15 rebounds, including 7 on offense, as the Thunder struggled to hold him back and out of the paint, losing 93-101. Pekovic is averaging 17 points and 10.4 rebounds in his last five games.
Andrei Kirilenko, also back from injury, was another big part of the win. He had the impossible job of guarding Kevin Durant. Durant, on his way to win his fourth NBA scoring title despite not averaging the most field goal attempts on his team (thanks to the anomaly that is Russell Westbrook), finished with 36 points on 13-19 shooting, but Kirilenko stopped him when it mattered, keeping Durant on only 4-9 from the field through the final 22 minutes.
And then there’s Rubio, who isn’t quite as electric or athletic as Westbrook, but is simply a smarter player, who makes better decisions than the Thunder’s point guard, still trying to make things happen out of difficult situations instead of making the right decision. Rubio finished with only 4-11 from the field, but he did hit a three pointer which hardly every happens, and scored 14 points, adding 7 assists and 4 steals, showing that point guards can play defense to the often too-lazy Westbrook.
The only good thing for the Thunder, losing to the Timberwolves for the second time this season? They don’t have to play Minnesota again this season.