MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — J.J. Barea ended Oklahoma City’s 12-game winning streak almost all by himself.
Playing with the tenacity that made him so important to the Mavericks’ run to the title two years ago, Barea scored 14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 99-93 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night.
Kevin Love had 28 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists and Nikola Pekovic had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota. But it was Barea who was the key, scoring 12 straight at one point for the Wolves to hold off the team with the best record in the league.
Kevin Durant had 33 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Russell Westbrook had 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for the Thunder, who had not lost a game since Nov. 23 at Boston.
That it was Barea, and not the Olympian Love or the sensation Ricky Rubio who was chiefly responsible was the biggest surprise of all.
Barea didn’t join the Timberwolves until training camp had already started last season, then languished through the first injury plagued year of his career. Finally healthy, he’s getting back to the super pest that helped the Dallas Mavericks to the title two years ago.
With the Thunder charging early in the fourth quarter, the smallest guy on the court played the biggest.
After Durant’s two free throws cut Minnesota’s lead to 80-77, Barea hit two 3s and scored on a putback under the rim amid the tall trees, an 8-0 run by himself that gave the Wolves a little breathing room. His long 3 with 5:26 to play made it 92-81, and the Wolves held on.
Barea was also a nuisance on defense, drawing an offensive foul on Durant with 2:24 to play. The normally super-cool Durant uncharacteristically lost his composure, picking up a technical foul for arguing the call as well.
Serge Ibaka had 14 points and nine rebounds.
Alexey Shved had 12 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds for the Wolves, who are trying to claw their way back to respectability after years at the bottom of the Western Conference.
With a nucleus of Love, Rubio and Pekovic, there is optimism here for the first time in a long time.
The Thunder stormed into Target Center riding the longest winning streak since the team moved to Oklahoma City, bullying opponents by an average of 14.2 points per game as they warm up for a run at a second straight finals appearance.
Rubio was playing his third game since being activated from a torn ACL in his left knee that had kept him out since March 9. He had a scintillating debut last Saturday, throwing no-look passes between his legs and looking as if he’d never left. But it’s been slower going in the ensuing two games. He was a non-factor in a loss in Orlando on Monday and had trouble getting going again against the Thunder.
His handle wasn’t nearly as sticky as usual and he was thwarted every time he tried to penetrate, then could be seen wincing in pain after an awkward landing on a shot in the second quarter. Coach Rick Adelman immediately pulled him, but Rubio was able to return in the second half.
Playing the part of Rubio on Thursday night was Shved, the Russian rookie with the flair for the dramatic. After two rough games in a row in Florida, Shved wasn’t intimidated by the team with the best record in the league. He calmly glided along the perimeter, surveying the defense and finding teammates with pinpoint passing.
NOTES: Kevin Martin did not play for the Thunder because of a right thigh contusion. … The Timberwolves waived G/F Josh Howard on Thursday after an MRI revealed a torn ACL in his right knee. … The Thunder lost for the first time in six tries on the second night of a back to back.
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