OKLAHOMA CITY — Pity the poor fools who watched lousy NCAA tournament basketball instead Friday night.
All they missed televised live from Chesapeake Energy Arena instead was Oklahoma City’s 149-140 double-overtime victory over the Timberwolves in which Kevin Love scored a franchise-record 51 points and J.J. Barea delivered the team’s first triple-double since Kevin Garnett did it in 2007. They still somehow flew home after 13 days on the road losers for the fifth time in the trip’s seven games.
“I’m still not sure how that happened,” Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver said.
It happened mostly because Thunder MVP candidate Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook refused to let the Western Conference’s best team go quietly into the Southern spring night.
Durant scored 40 points and Westbrook 45 and the Thunder outlasted a Wolves team missing starters Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic and bench scorer Michael Beasley on a night when coach Rick Adelman worried that his players might be ready to go home after such a long trip with one night’s work still remaining.
“I feel really bad for our guys,” Adelman said afterward. “They couldn’t have played harder.”
Love surpassed Garnett’s previous franchise scoring record of 47 by making a career-high seven three-pointers, five of them in the first half. He scored 30 of those 51 after halftime and 12 in the fourth quarter alone, when he forced overtime by answering Durant’s dramatic go-ahead three-pointer with one of his own from directly in front of the Thunder bench with one second left in regulation time.
That shot — and his accompanying defiant reaction — brought back memories of the buzzer-beating three he hit to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles in January.
“Doesn’t matter now with a loss,” Love said, referring to the club scoring record and Barea’s career night. “Sometimes this game is like that. It’s crazy. We needed this game. It could have been a driving force for us in these last 17 games.”
Barea reached his first career triple-double with a 25-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound night from the littlest guy on the floor, and Tolliver, nearly traded to Portland last week, provided 23 points off the bench.
And all three of them would have felt so different afterward if the Wolves hadn’t lost a five-point lead with 45 seconds remaining in the first overtime, if Love hadn’t been called for traveling with a three-point lead and 16 seconds left or if Love had been in position to be just a little closer when Durant tied the score with a clutch three from the corner with 10 seconds left in that first overtime.
Or if Barea’s open three as the clock ticked out hadn’t just missed or if Tolliver hadn’t had a wide-open layup slip from his hands when the game still was in doubt early in the second overtime.
“We had the game won in that first overtime,” Barea said. “They had to play perfect until the end. It took them two overtimes to beat us. They’re the best team in the West. We had some bad luck. It’s basketball. That’s how it is.”
And that’s how it will be played over and over on ESPN “SportsCenter” highlights or perhaps even soon on one of those cable instant-classic games.
“I’m pretty sure our game was better than any other game going on tonight,” Tolliver said. “But you never want to lose a game like that. It hurts more. It’s never a good thing to lose like that.”