Found December 20, 2012 on Fox Sports North:
MINNEAPOLIS It didn't end predictably, to a San Antonio team that could have eviscerated it or an Atlanta squad that could have tricked it into submission. It didn't end to a Brooklyn group that could have trampled it before it ballooned or to a bunch from Houston led by a beard with an axe to grind.It didn't end in any way anyone would have drawn up, and so of course it ended like it did, with a hobbled team and a diminutive point guard, with a beard rivaling James Harden's and the man attached finally hitting his stride.When the buzzer sounded on the Timberwolves' 99-93 win over the Thunder on Thursday, Oklahoma City's 12-game winning streak went in the books. Done. It was the longest such streak since the Thunder became the Thunder, and when it died, so too did the team's stretch of the same length of wins over Minnesota. Done and done, to be precise, and to blink and wonder if that really happened would not have been an outlandish response.Welcome to Minnesota, where any attempt to define or understand this year's Timberwolves should quickly be abandoned. Welcome to Minnesota, where, improbably, the winning streak of the NBA's best team went to die.--The anatomy of an upset begins with a hearty dose of jealousy, sprinkled with just a hint of Rick Adelman's signature astonishment. "I get a little envious of Scott," the Timberwolves coach admitted pregame. And of course he'd envy Brooks. Until that night, when Kevin Martin sat with a right quad contusion, the Thunder's top eight players had yet to miss a game. They'd had just one starting lineup to the Timberwolves' nine.Envious was the understatement of the season.The anatomy of an upset also, it appears, begins with a torn ACL, Josh Howard's, and perhaps even the end of a career. The Timberwolves announced pregame they'd waived the forward after learning about the injury, and so there was talk of jinxes and curses and other such superstition.It also begins with recognition of exactly what Adelman and company were facing. There was no shying away from it. A winning streak that colossal looms too large to ignore, and it made the Thunder what they were (and still are).They're the best team in the NBA.--Next comes a 25-11 Timberwolves run to open the game, one that includes two 3-pointers from Kevin Love and one from Alexey Shved, and the league's worst long-range shooting team was 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. They've been chucking those 3-pointers, Adelman's crew, with the coach's firm belief that they'd eventually fall. Adelman has been around long enough, seen his share of improbable struggles, but even his blind faith was faltering before Thursday's game, as he jokingly speculated about Chase Budinger's chances of sinking perimeter shots while on crutches.At this point, after this many injuries, it has to be funny. Otherwise Adelman would have long gone insane, and on Thursday, he was rewarded. On the night, the Timberwolves went 9-of-20 from long range, and enough for the coach to breathe a bit easier, at least for a moment."I told the coaches to frame this one," Adelman said, nodding at his box score. "Nine for 20, that's like a dream for us."But a hot start won't beat the Thunder. A hot start doesn't trip up Kevin Durant, who finished with 33 points, or Russell Westbrook, who was one assist short of a triple-double, with 30 points and 11 rebounds to boot. Those numbers build streaks. They build 21-5 records, and the Timberwolves had to play out of their minds for 48 minutes to do what they did.The shooting built the chance. It planted the seed that the Timberwolves' lead might big enough to hold. So did Andrei Kirilenko's defense, his handling of Durant to the extent that Durant can be handled and the team's overall fluid passing throughout the first two quarters. It took the best half of Minnesota's season to even entertain the idea of a looming win, and it took none other than J.J. Barea to wrap it up.Yes, J.J. Barea, of the 5-10 variety, of the stitches over his right eye and propensity to not quite see the magnitude of what he's up against. On an individual scale, that can be dangerous. That's how he gets those stitches and sprains. But on this stage, in the meta, it was just what the Timberwolves needed. The Thunder, no big deal, at least to Barea.In the fourth quarter, with the game within three points, 80-77, Barea set up for a three-point shot and drained it. 83-77. Forty seconds later, a layup. 82-77. A minute after that, another three. Another. 85-77, and Barea and Barea alone had just completed an 8-0 run. He was out there with the big boys, with Durant and Westbrook and Ibaka, weaseling his way through their reach like only Barea weasels, taking charges, pitching and lurching his way through the game's final moments."I love it," Barea said. "I love it. We just needed a little bit more tonight, a little energy, and I'm glad I was able to provide that.""Yeah, yeah. I've almost got to hold myself back a little bit (scoring). I think I did a good job of just picking my spots, and I let the shots come to me."--An upset of the Timberwolves variety ends a bit awkwardly. They're not used to dribbling around and killing time after rendering the foul game useless. It's not quite pretty or magnificent yet, and on Thursday, it even involved a traveling call on Dante Cunningham.The Timberwolves handle 28-point nights from Love with grace, nights when his 11 rebounds and seven assists put him just short of a triple-double. They're even learning to handle 24 points from Nikola Pekovic similarly; they're exciting, but becoming more expected, part of the fiber of the team. But wins over the Thunder, those don't yet end so gracefully, and that's just fine for now.Someday, though, they'll have to. And while the Thunder at their end of the tunnel discussed how they're not concerned with the streak, how they didn't get over the hump, how they'll move on, the conversation among the Timberwolves of a different magnitude.This was not just a blip for them. They'll remember this one, more clearly if these kind of things continue. This could be a something to build on, a point of pride, a source of motivation. Someday, though, it'll have to become normal. Maybe not to snap a streak like that one, maybe not when they're so shorthanded, maybe not after what Love called a six-month "hellish battle of attrition." But to get anywhere, wins like this will have to become believable, if not quite mundane."Hopefully we'll come to a point where these type of wins against these type of teams will just be another game," Love said.The upset closes with a Timberwolves locker room excited, but maybe not as excited as you might imagine; somehow, these players aren't so utterly floored. It closes with a coach, Adelman, admitting he'd entertained the idea of this happening. It closes with the Thunder off to prepare for their Christmas Day matchup against Miami and with a big, cardboard box wedged in the locker next to Love's, the one that 24 hours ago belonged to Howard.The pecking order of the NBA has not been altered. The Timberwolves' problems of injury and inaccuracy have not been erased. But Kevin Love is smiling a grin bigger than anyone's seen all season, and in Minnesota, there's a tiny bit more of a reason to believe. FollowJoan Niesen onTwitter.
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