Corey Brewer, Wolves put Kevin Durant, Thunder into offensive disarray
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If you had to boil down the Minnesota Timberwolves' biggest perceived weakness this season, the simplest answer would be defense.
Periodic lapses, primarily defensively, came close to allowing Orlando to spoil the Wolves' season-opener, but a strengthened effort eventually helped preserve an overtime victory.
Overtime was nowhere close to being needed Friday night.
For all the concerns about the Wolves defensively, they offered a dominant example of what they are capable of when their entire lineup is locked in.
Minnesota rarely wavered, plunging Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder into almost constant disarray. A 14-point first quarter lead swelled as high as 34 as the Wolves rumbled to a 100-81 victory.
As coach Rick Adelman addressed before tipoff, Durant isn't a guy who can be stopped, even if the absence injured star counterpart, Russell Westbrook, leaves the Thunder lacking a needed dimension. The only counter is to do everything possible to slow him down.
But if Durant can't be stopped, then Friday was about as close to it as it gets.
Hounded by a relentless Corey Brewer, Durant was left frustrated all night. It was an experience Durant has rarely experienced in recent years. The Wolves held the Thunder All-Star to just 13 points (4-of-11) - his lowest scoring total since Dec. 31, 2011 (12 points vs Phoenix).
Brewer, who was sought after by the Wolves in the offseason largely to address issues defensively, said his goal each night is to hold his man under 20 points, even if that man is one of the league's most dynamic players.
"So that was pretty good tonight," Brewer remarked, breaking into a grin.
Brewer was put on Durant from the get-go and the impact was almost immediate. Brewer tailed Durant up and down the court, doing whatever he could to prevent the Thunder from getting him the ball. Even when Durant had the ball in his hands, Brewer was right there to greet him.
Durant took only three shots in the first quarter, making one to finish the initial frame with five points, three of which came from the free throw line. Without his production, Oklahoma City had little else to offer. Getting balanced scoring throughout its starting five, Minnesota rolled out to a 34-19 lead that never diminished.
Brewer logged nearly half as many minutes as he did against the Magic (21 compared to 40), a product of the energy spent keeping up with Durant, but it didn't lessen the effect.
It did, however, leave him more exhausted.
"I'm pretty tired," Brewer said. "Denying a guy all night, you can get pretty tired. I'm just happy we came away with a win."
Second half letdowns have been an issue for the Wolves, brought to the forefront two days prior by the Magic. But as the night progressed, no relapse came. Momentarily, early in the third quarter, it appeared the Thunder had the opening to make a run. However, the impressively resilient all-around defensive effort stayed in place, as did the double-digit lead. The Thunder never got closer than 16 points the rest of the way.
Derrick Williams, in his first minutes of the season, followed Brewer's lead and zeroed in on slowing down Durant. In the second half, Durant was held to only two points (1-of-4). His lack of scoring, and the defense that aided in the result, was more eye-catching than the Wolves' ability to cultivate a daunting lead.
"We just wanted to force him into tough shots first and foremost," said Kevin Love, who recorded his second double-double of the year with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds.
"He's guy you just have to contain. He's going to be a volume shooter, and more often than not he's going to score at a very high clip and a very high level. I think the biggest thing was just getting the ball out of his hands."
The renewed defensive effort was made possible by a consistent team-wide investment. Brewer, however, was the point man in guiding it to fruition.
Adelman had left his starting small forward spot up to debate all the way until opening night before settling on Brewer. The 6-foot-9 forward's performance in two games, a combined 23 points to go with his output on defense, has more than validated Adelman's decision.
"I thought Corey really just set the tone early in the game and by denying him in the third quarter when we thought they would come out aggressive at us, especially Durant," Adelman said.
The Wolves may not have the long-term capabilities to be one the NBA's top defensive squads, but the result on Friday was a reminder of the dangers they could pose to opponents if their defense keeps pace with their high-octane offensive potential.