There's a new Big Three in town.
Get used to it.
Whether it's as good as the one you grew to love matters little at this point. All that matters now is the new version is proving to be just as effective.
Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin took charge in the Thunder's 106-92 win over Portland on Friday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, combining for 74 points and showing that, yes, life does go own without James Harden.
And while the revamped trio has its differences, these first two games have shown that it still is just as dynamic.
Westbrook beat up the Blazers with the same blistering speed we've long been accustomed to. Durant scored effortlessly and with the same ease as he has the past three seasons. Martin, meanwhile, showed for the second straight night that he can supply the sharpshooting that is sorely needed from this team's new sixth man.
Suddenly, while the basketball world continues to focus on what the Thunder lost, what is materializing at a mesmerizing pace is a more diverse attack that has been gained.
“It's going to take time,” said Westbrook, who scored a game-high 32 points with five rebounds, six assists and only one turnover. “But we're getting better. We're learning each other's spots. We're trying to get Kevin (Martin) the ball where he likes the ball, and I already know where Kevin (Durant) likes the ball. It's just a learning process. But we're going to get it right.”
Not to take anything away from Harden, but he was overkill on a star-studded roster that already featured two players that worked best with the ball in their hands. Harden never was going to get the touches he required to truly dominate like he's already showing he's capable of in Houston. In Martin, though, the Thunder now has a threat that is lethal working without the basketball, a player who maximizes possessions despite fewer being designed to run through him.
Against the Blazers, Martin came off the bench and scored 19 points on 5-for-11 shooting. He made all three of his 3-point attempts and, not unlike Harden, used his jerky-style to earn six foul shots, all makes.
“K-Mart comes in and just makes things happen with his ability to play without the basketball,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “And he's good with the ball. He's not a one-dimensional scorer. You don't score 20 points for I don't know how many years he did it and just be a one-dimensional scorer. He can score. He can get to the line. He can shoot 3s. His shot is not the prettiest shot, but it goes in and that's all you worry about.”
After scoring 15 points in 33 minutes Thursday night against San Antonio, Martin played four fewer minutes against the Blazers. But he looked twice as comfortable as he did just one night earlier, a sign that the chemistry between this reworked roster is coming together.
Brooks, in the aftermath of the trade that some feel might torpedo the Thunder's championship chances this season, has become a bit of a defender of his team's chemistry.
“James was a good player, don't get me wrong,” Brooks said. “But he wasn't Dr. James. He wasn't helping the group stick together. All the guys did.”
This new unit's increasing chemistry was really on display in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder led by just five with 71/2 minutes remaining. After Durant put back a layup to push the lead to seven, he led a fast break and found Martin alone in the left corner for a 3. Following a Wes Matthews dunk, Durant again dished to Martin, who finished this time with a baseline runner to push the lead back to 10.
Portland's deficit soon swelled to 14 after The Big Three combined for 21 of the Thunder's 32 fourth-quarter points.
“Everybody was playing together,” said Durant (23 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists). “Once we move the ball like that, it's tough to stop us. It's so many options.”
They're just different.
“Hopefully, it can lead to good things,” said Westbrook. “We're going to take it one day at a time and try to get better and try to work together.”