News, notes and observations from Friday’s 104-102 win over New Jersey
- The Thunder recorded its 40th win but nearly didn’t. OKC led by as many as 16 points late in the third quarter but was outscored 38-24 the rest of the way.
- Oklahoma City had six turnovers in the final period, marking a disappointing end to a game that should have been a blowout.
- New Jersey might have won it if it had a better go-to, late-game option than Jarvis Hayes, who, to his credit, did hit two straight 3-pointers inside the final two minutes that cut the lead to four. Hayes bricked his next two 3-pointers and the Thunder avoided embarrassment.
- Hayes’ third-quarter buzzer beater was nice, though.
- Despite the milestone 40th win, and the 17-game improvement over last season that it brings, the Thunder treated this one as business as usual. Said Jeff Green: “We haven’t achieved anything. As tight as this Western Conference race is, we could easily drop out of the playoff race quick.” Said coach Scott Brooks: “We’ve won 40 games, but we still have a lot of things that we need to work on. That’s the good thing about this team. We’re going to come back tomorrow and figure out a way or two to get better and challenge each other to get better.”
- Green was the player of the game, with 20 first-half points that sparked the Thunder and allowed OKC to have a cushion it could then blow. Green’s outside stroke was going early and it triggered a hot night that led to a season-high 27 points.
- Even though the Thunder outscored New Jersey by only one point, the third quarter illustrated how the Nets have just seven wins. Josh Boone missed a one-handed putback dunk. Courtney Lee air-balled a 17 footer. And Trenton Hassell backed down Kevin Durant for so long that the possession resulted in a shot-clock violation.
- Did I mention these Nets players never met a shot they didn’t like. Everybody’s gunning on this team. Only Hassell and Boone seemed to be aware of what they do best.
- I thought Russell Westbrook played a much better game than his final stat line indicated. His nine turnovers are an eyesore for any stat sheet. But he finished with 11 points, 10 assists four rebounds and one blocked shot. He took only seven shots and made three of them. But aside from any stat that ever existed, he played hard on both ends, doing things that don’t show up in the box score. When he stripped Devin Harris on a reverse layup attempt in the first half, he busted his tail down the left sideline to fill the lane on the break. He would have had an uncontested dunk, but Thabo Sefolosha fumbled away the first pass from Durant. Later, in the second half, Westbrook “pulled the chair” from Hassell and forced him into a traveling violation. Westbrook made hustle and heady plays like that all night. But the eyesore is what will stand out to most in this one.
- Harris didn’t look like he played with much fire tonight with the exception of some early aggressiveness attacking the rim. Generally, that’s the last type of player anyone wants on their team. But can you blame him at this point? What I really liked about Harris was that I didn’t see him complain one time after drawing contact. And he drew plenty. Don’t know if that’s typical of Harris’ demeanor or if it simply goes back to that point about the fire dying out.
- With his 36th 30-point game, Durant broke Spencer Haywood’s franchise record for 30 point games in a single season. Congratulations to Kevin Durant…I’m sure he’ll tell you he’s just trying to get better every day.
- The Thunder played its first game without James Harden (strained right hamstring), and Scott Brooks went with Eric Maynor and Nick Collison off the bench first. No real difference. Serge Ibaka checked in seconds later. Recalled guard Kyle Weaver checked in with 1:01 remaining in the first quarter and played just 10 minutes. So the main difference in the rotation after one game was just less minutes for the backup shooting guard. We’ll see how that might change Sunday.
- I’m curious to see the battle of the benches from now until Harden returns. The Nets’ reserves outscored the Thunder’s 53-20, in part because New Jersey’s played 36 more minutes. But unless Collison scores 10 points every night for as long as Harden is out, the Thunder could be in big trouble against deeper, more talented teams. Weaver can’t go scoreless, and Maynor might have to contribute more scoring. But Brooks said his bench unit will have to overcome the shortage by, what else, clamping down defensively. Judging by tonight’s game, it’s looking like Brooks’ remedy also might simply be playing the starters more minutes.
- OKC out-rebounded N.J. 47-36, which can be taken two ways. You could look at the Nets as one of the league’s worst rebounding team and figure that’s what the Thunder is supposed to do. Or you could tip your cap to the Thunder for controlling Boone and Brook Lopez, who has fared extremely well against the Thunder the past two years, save one performance.
- The Thunder had its 19th sellout of the season…Against the Nets, no less. Give yourselves a round of applause for that one.
- The home team never trailed after taking a 5-4 lead tonight.
- The line of the night came after a writer who regularly covers the Thunder began complaining to Nets beat writers about mundane quotes from Thunder players. Said one Nets writer: “You want to trade places with us?” Ballgame.