<
>

Kevin Durant takes blame as Thunder stunned by Timberwolves

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was obvious almost from tipoff: The Oklahoma City Thunder's heads were somewhere else, likely in San Antonio, where they play in less than 24 hours.

Facing the scrappy, enthusiastic Minnesota Timberwolves, they fell behind 13-4 in the opening few minutes of Friday's contest, giving the ball away like they were afraid to have it. And while it was a winding road to eventually get to Ricky Rubio's winning 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left, the story was told pretty much throughout the 48 minutes that preceded it. The tone was set. The Thunder were sloppy. They were unfocused. They were undisciplined.

And they paid for it with yet another rock-bottom moment in what's been a rock-bottom few weeks.

"I didn't think it was an effort issue tonight," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, "as much as it was maybe more of a concentration issue."

The numbers are jarring, specifically a couple of them -- 24 and 15. The Thunder turned the ball over 24 times, and they had just 15 assists. The veteran, tested Thunder were the ones throwing the ball all over the place. The young, inexperienced Timberwolves were the ones valuing the ball, giving it away just 12 times.

Kevin Durant, who had six turnovers on Friday and has committed 32 of them in five games this month, took the blame for not just the turnovers but the entire performance.

"It's all on me. It's all my fault," Durant said. "It's contagious. I'm a leader. Everybody expects me to be on my game every night. So I take full responsibility for it."

Durant, who railed on his teammates a little more than a week ago for their lack of discipline, was just getting started.

"I've got to be better. Overall, I've got to be better in every part of the game," he said. "I can't turn the ball over. I've got to shoot better shots. I've got to rebound better. I've got to make the right play every time. I've got to be better at encouraging my teammates. I've got to be better at breathing life into my teammates, cheering for them. So I take full responsibility for it. It's my fault."

It was a noble, admirable move by Durant to fall on his sword after his team's shocking performance. But it was hardly just on him.

"Wish I could take all of them back, man," he said. "I've just got to watch film and see where I can be better. But I've got to control those turnovers because it's bleeding into the rest of the team, and as a leader, I take full responsibility."

After one turnover in particular during the third quarter -- when Durant swooped under the bucket and kicked the ball to the weakside corner, where Zach LaVine intercepted it -- the Thunder forward dropped his head and rubbed his forehead. He clenched his jaw and chomped on his mouthpiece as the frustration started boiling inside. He still hustled back on defense and played on, but the look was unmistakable.

But again, it's wrong to pin everything on Durant. He scored 28 points and shook off a 2-for-7 shooting start to finish 11-for-20 from the floor. He made a number of key shots late in the game, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with three minutes left and a big dunk to put Oklahoma City up by four with 50 seconds to go. Turnovers have been his issue of late, but outside of that, he has been exceptional, averaging 31 points, 11.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists in March.

There's a solution to the problem, he said, and he didn't seem entirely shaken by what appears to be a very bad loss.

"Most definitely. Most definitely. Most definitely," he said, when asked if the issue is fixable. "Like I said, just silly. Just silly by me. I've just got to be better."

Donovan wouldn't bite on the thought the Thunder were looking past the Timberwolves -- "You know, I hope not," he said, without much conviction -- and Durant resisted taking the bait, as well.

"They were better than us tonight. No way around it," Durant said. "We didn't look forward. We didn't think about the next game. They were just better than us. We turned the ball over. Like I said, we've got to be better. I had six of them with one assist. That's just ... terrible. We didn't look forward. We just didn't play well tonight."

What the Thunder were left with was a disrupting loss -- another one -- and a trip to San Antonio in their immediate future. There's a strong likelihood it gets worse before it can get better. The Thunder have had an alarming number of head-scratching games by blowing leads and playing with a disturbing lack of urgency and focus.

It's one thing to brush aside one bad loss in a long, 82-game season. But when you're a contender, you only get a couple of passes on those. The Thunder have used up all of their mulligans and are moving into "OK, what the heck is wrong with you?" territory.

Sometimes, they're like a Michael Bay movie. They look flashy, catch your eye, keep you entertained and make you think you're watching something really good. But after two hours, you're asking yourself what you just watched.