Thunder 89, Blazers 77
News, notes and observations from Tuesday night’s 89-77 win against the Blazers
- The Thunder made its run in the fourth quarter, a 13-0 spurt that broke open a nip and tuck contest and gave OKC a 74-63 lead. James Harden and Eric Maynor led the charge, with Harden providing the scoring and Maynor setting him up. Coach Scott Brooks then took out the duo in place of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, one of those set substitutions that ignores the hot hand. And it almost backfired. The Blazers went on an 8-2 run and gained momentum.
- Then Durant took over. He buried one jumper, then another, then a 3 from the right wing. All of them came over Blazers wing Nicolas Batum, who is supposed to be a lock-down defender. So the next time you think Durant is not clutch because he hasn’t hit buzzer-beaters, go back and review how he hit big shot after big shot in this game. And the Golden State game three nights earlier. And the Pacers game in mid-January.
- Here’s a game that serves as a classic example of how stats never can tell the whole story. The one that jumps out most is Durant’s one assist. Had his teammates finished more often he would have been credited for six or seven. Durant did a fantastic job of playing the role of playmaker in the first half.
- Make that a season-high six-game winning streak for the Thunder. OKC is now 30-21 heading into the All-Star break and is tied for sixth in the West. Wow.
- Going back to the bench, you’ve got to think that the way the Thunder closed out Portland with its reserves on the floor at the start of the fourth will build confidence in that group, which, again, is made up of three rookies — Maynor, Harden and Serge Ibaka.
- A clear example of Harden’s basketball IQ was illustrated in the first quarter with about 3:50 left. When Jeff Green’s outlet passed sailed too long, Harden caught up to it, made the trailing Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum think he’d try to lay it in, but dumped off a nifty behind-the-back pass to Durant for an easy Dunk.
- The shot-clock beating jumper by Maynor early in the second quarter demonstrated the poise the rook has played with since coming over from Utah. With the shot clock winding, he didn’t panic. He pumped faked two defenders, split them, managed to set his feet and get off a clean attempt. He didn’t look rattled at any point during the possession. On the next couple of possessions, he drove the lane and found Nick Collison and Ibaka for easy buckets.
- Ibaka was huge in the fourth, grabbing a handful of rebounds and swatting three of his four blocked shots in the game. You can see him developing more nastiness and grit as each game goes by. He beat his chest tonight. He swatted away Juwan Howard’s arm late in the game when Howard was holding his jersey as he tried to get back on defense. It’s going to be interesting to see how much he improves over the final 32 games.
- The Thunder defenders used their hands very well tonight, Jeff Green on LaMarcus Aldridge and Thabo Sefolosha on Andre Miller.
- Speaking of Miller, the box score says he had a game-high 22 points, but he’s not going to want to watch the film of this one with his teammates around. Dude got embarrassed three times by the Thunder tonight. First, KD broke his ankles in the first half with a crossover on a fast break, then Harden buckled his knees and finally, Nenad Krstic posterized him in the second half when he rotated too late to stop a two-handed dunk.
- OKC did a very solid job on Aldridge all night. With Brandon Roy out, going into the game I thought the Green-Aldridge matchup would be the key to the game since Aldridge would get more touches. But Aldridge didn’t record his first points until a pair of free throws with 7:05 left in the second. Green did a great job in man on Aldridge to start, andthe Thunder flashed additional bodies at him at times to throw him off his rhythm.
- On the other end, Green was aggressive from the start and had six quick points before finishing with 17. One thing I noticed more tonight than in any other game was Green’s jump hook. Don’t know if that’s something he’s been working on lately or a move he needed to dust off against the longer Aldridge. I’m all for it if it gets him in the post a little more and he can knock it down consistently.
- Russell Westbrook came back down to Earth tonight…and still put up all-around solid numbers. He had eight points with seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. He had four turnovers and wasn’t as sharp tonight as he’s been of late. But the good thing is he was still effective in spots.
- Portland’s 17 first quarter points tied an opponent season-low for the Thunder. The Blazers’ 77 points was the fewest a team has scored on the Thunder since Orlando scored a season-low 74 on Nov. 8.
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