News, notes and observations from Sunday’s 119-111 win over Utah…….
- The Russell Westbrook-Deron Williams matchup was the highlight of the game. And you could tell it would be good from the opening minutes. Both players went at each other from the start and wouldn’t give the other an inch. Westbrook tried to back down Williams on multiple possessions early and it didn’t really lead to his own offense, but it generated some buckets when he found players off cuts. Westbrook was much more effective with his scoring when he attacked hard on drives to the basket.
- Then coach Scott Brooks played spoiler and put Thabo Sefolosha on Williams midway through the second quarter and ruined all the fun. Westbrook and Williams still stole the show, though, even while they weren’t guarding each other. Then Sefolosha picked up his fourth foul with 9:37 left in the third and it was on again.
- Aside from the entertainment of the individual matchup, Westbrook controlled the game beautifully against Utah. He made nice passes, hit rhythmic pull-ups and played solid defense, although most of it came when he switched onto Wes Matthews. This was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen out of Westbrook. If you took the names off the back of the jerseys and didn’t know anything about the Thunder, tonight you would have thought Westbrook was the franchise player and Kevin Durant was the sidekick. That’s how good Westbrook was. And with the Thunder running more and more of the offense through him, we could begin to see Durant become less of the main option as the season winds to an end. There will be plenty of sets that are run specifically for Durant, but Westbrook is starting to look extremely comfortable taking charge and running the show. That can only be a good thing for the Thunder, especially if Durant continues to develop the ability to consistently take over games down the stretch.
- To my last point, Westbrook had 30 points and 11 assists and Durant had a game-high 35 points. Those numbers illustrate how Durant still can get his even if he’s not the focal point of the offense.
- Durant settled for jumpers early on C.J. Miles and missed his first three attempts. Then he made his next three and caught him with the rip move and before you knew it led all scorer’s with 11 points after one quarter and had 20 at the half.
- The hands-down play of the game came with 4:24 remaining when Durant found Jeff Green for an uncontested dunk plus the foul that stretched the lead to 13. Starting from the left win, Durant spun left on Miles, crossed over Carlos Boozer and worked back right across the lane to draw the help side defense, then found Green all by his lonesome. When they talk about the things a 6-foot-10 guy isn’t supposed to do, rewind and look at how he created that bucket.
- The Thunder started the third quarter12-for-12 from the field. OKC didn’t miss until Kyle Weaver missed a 3-pointer with 2:18 remaining in the period. The Thunder finished the period 14 of 17 from the field.
- OKC shot a season-high 60.3 percent from the field. Good thing, too, because the Jazz drained 11 of 19 3-pointers and shot 50.6 percent on their end. This was not one of the better played defensive games on the Thunder’s part.
- With the win, the Thunder clinched the tiebreaker over the Jazz after taking a 3-0 series lead. Keep an eye on that in case Utah stumbles and OKC keeps streaking. Although the Jazz wouldn’t have to stumble very far. Tonight’s win pulled the Thunder within a half game of Utah for the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round.
- Make that five straight wins for the Thunder. One peak at the schedule suggests OKC has a very good chance to at least tie its season-high nine-game streak. Up next, at Charlotte, at Toronto, at Indiana and back home against a battered San Antonio squad. Things can get really interesting in the next week.
- In his postgame press conference, Brooks, for what seems like the first time, actually acknowledged how good his team is: “We’re a good team. I don’t know how good we will end up this season…I would say we’re a good team. We want to be one of the better teams in the league but it’s going to take time.”
- 20th sellout of the season for the Thunder tonight. I’m told there are a good amount of tickets left for the four-game homestand that follows the three-game road trip. Get on board, people!
- Kyrylo Fesenko wasn’t very successful dunking the basketball tonight. He missed his first attempt and had his second one blocked by Weaver before converting his third one. Later, Nick Collison prevented an easy dunk with a nice play on the ball but was whistled for the foul. And when Fesenko goes to the line, it ain’t pretty. Dude was 2-for-8 from the stripe and all six of his misses were atrocious.
- Serge Ibaka looks like he’s learning to keep his hands off the rim. Collison threw up a shot early in the fourth quarter and Ibaka jumped high above the rim but restrained himself and didn’t touch it. Good to see he is learning.
- Ibaka’s three blocked shots weren’t bad either.
- I would have loved to see how the Thunder would have fared against the Jazz with Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Ronnie Price healthy and in the lineup. Kirilenk0 can change the game for Utah on the defensive end, Okur spaces the court on the offensive end and makes teams rotations become much tighter and Price would have kept a D-Leaguer off the floor.
- This could be the 4-5 seed matchup, and it would be a very good one. I’m starting to wonder if the Thunder’s 3-0 record against the Jazz this season, however, has some Thunder fans overconfident about OKC’s chances in a playoff series. Maybe I’m the one who’s delusional. Golden State swept Dallas in 2006-07 and then beat them in the first round. So it’s possible we could have a similar situation on our hands.