Observations, news and notes from Monday night’s game……
* Unlike the Thunder’s ninth win, Kevin Durant allowed his sigh of relief to be heard Monday night following his team’s 10th victory, which surpassed the win total of the the NBA’s all-time worst record.
“It feels good actually,” Durant said with a sheepish smile. “That was in the back of my mind…People have been talking about that Sixers team that won only nine games. But now that that’s out the way we can just continue to play and not worry about it because constantly everybody has been asking about it. But now that we’ve got that out of the way it feels good.”
* Surprisingly, Durant was less excited about the Thunder no longer having the distinction as the worst team in the league. The win, coupled with a Washington loss, moved Oklahoma City ahead of the Wizards and into a tie with Sacramento for second to last.
“I guess that feels good, too,” Durant said. “But we can’t worry about other teams. We just got to come out and play our game.”
* Interesting that one game after Durant said he’d take 15 and a win over 46 and a loss, that’s nearly what happened.
“Everybody contributed tonight and it feels good,” Durant said. “To actually get some time on the bench in the fourth quarter, it feels good.”
* The theme of this game was defense and ball movement for the Thunder. It’s a mix that, for some reason, the team lost sight of out West but saw what can happen when it focuses on those principles. I asked Durant about why the Thunder sometimes doesn’t seem to get it and prefers to get into shootouts….
“Teams like the Clippers and the Warriors, we tend to play with them since we do that, too. We get up and down like them. We try to play like them. But if we control the game like we did tonight, I think every game could be like this. That’s what we need. It’s the blueprint for our success.”
* The Thunder’s fourth quarter drought was a shame and shouldn’t have happened. When a team official who was seated next to me initially leaned over to me and said we could see Chucky Atkins, my response was ‘The Thunder better hold on to this lead.” The team official thought I was nuts. Well, we saw what happened. As Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson wrote for Tuesday’s paper, the Thunder is still learning how to finish games. This was as clear a sign as you’ll ever see of that.
* What’s almost amusing to me about the Thunder’s near meltdown was that it was on the shoulders of the very same guys who are dying to either have bigger roles or some kind of role other than cheerleader — Earl Watson, Chucky Atkins, Kyle Weaver, Damien Wilkins and Chris Wilcox. Sure, it’s only natural to let your guard down when you’re up 30, but you would think those guys would know that their performance is being judged as well. I don’t think anyone would question coach Scott Brooks if he sticks with the starters the next time the Thunder is in this situation. Personally, I thought Brooks should have put the starters back in with three minutes left and you could see it continuing to get out of hand.
* Before joining that head-scratching squad down the stretch, Wilcox actually played some good ball in a surprising call to action in the first half. He had six points and seven boards in nine first half minutes. Brooks was coy when I asked him the reason for the sudden action for Wilcox.
“It’s important that all guys one through 15 stay ready, whether it’s Chris, Robert, Damien, Chucky, they have to stay focused and stay ready,” Brooks said. ”And I feel confident that if I throw any of those guys in the game they’re going to perform well because they put time in before and after practice. It was just a game feel. I felt that Chris could give us a spark and give us some energy off the bench and he did a good job in that first half.”
* Brooks said it was hard to judge Chucky’s first game when the fourth turned into what it did but said he’s been terrific in practice. “He helps more than the average person knows right now because he talks to our young guys constantly.”