Thunder 124, Wizards 117
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win over Washington.
- There might not be such a thing as a bad win. But this one sure as heck wasn’t a good one.
- The Thunder’s defense is gone. The team can never admit that, and they certainly can’t change gears now. But maybe it’s time fans forget about it returning this season.
- The Wizards scored 29 points in the opening period, shot 52 percent and didn’t have a single turnover.
- Here are the two most telling things about the Thunder’s defense tonight. The Thunder didn’t register a steal through three quarters. Not one! OKC finished with three, one more than its season low, and didn’t get its first until Nick Collison collected a deflection with 10:49 left in the fourth. The second thing. The Wizards had just eight turnovers. Washington came in as the third worst team taking care of the ball, giving it away 16 times a game.
- The Wizards had 19 more shot attempts than the Thunder. The offensive rebounding was the same, at 13 apiece. But the Thunder’s 16 turnovers gave the Wizards more opportunities.
- But, hey, the Thunder is 30-16. The team is 17-5 in games decided by six points or less and 5-0 in overtime. I’m sure there are some that say I’m being too critical. But at this point, whether the Thunder is winning or not, the performances are unacceptable.
- Maybe it would be better if the Thunder wasn’t winning. I’ve got a funny feeling that the mounting wins are creating a big ol’ pot of fool’s gold. For the coaches and the players. The close wins could be creating an entirely different set of false confidence. After winning in this fashion for the better part of 46 games, it’s not out of the question to think that maybe this young team believes it can win like this on any given night. Or worse, in the playoffs. But again, the Thunder is 17-5 in close games, right? So maybe I’m wrong.
- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the heroes tonight. They combined for 75 points and had the Thunder’s final 32 points going back to the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation. As impressive as it was, count me in the camp that thinks it was avoidable.
- Two Wizards possessions in the final minute of regulation defined the night defensively. With the Thunder nursing a three-point lead, the Wizards scored twice in less than seven seconds. Andray Blatche converted a lightly-contested layup. And Nick Young hit a game-tying jumper. Both came out of inbounds plays and needed to be set up. The Thunder provided paltry resistance on both. Get a stop in either of those situations, or even force the Wiz to take more time off the clock, and the Thunder probably wins this in regulation.
- Once again, Durant settled for a 26-foot potential game-winner at the buzzer in regulation. Where is the playbook? Open it up. If it has been opened up and Durant continues to do that on a judgment call, go in another direction. Bet you he makes a better decision next time.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks was OK with Durant’s look. He said it’s only an issue because he missed it, adding he was OK with the game-winner against the Knicks as well. (I’ll leave out my opinion on this one.)
- The Thunder did make things tougher on the Wizards in the two overtime periods. Washington shot 6-for-19 in the two extra periods, as OKC made Young, Blatche, John Wall and Rashard Lewis take tougher shots. But for the most part, the Thunder won this one because the had more ammo in a shootout. Durant and Westbrook are twice the scorers of any tandem on the Wizards. They should have put this one away.
- Durant’s three-point play with 3:10 left in the second overtime was the back-breaker. It tied the game at 115-all and sparked an 8-0 run, all by Durant. When it was over, the Thunder turned a three-point deficit into a five-point advantage. Said Durant: “I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean at the end of the fourth. Russell carried us into that overtime. I just wanted to give him some help.”
- Durant finished with 40, the fourth time this year he’s had at least 40. It bumped up Durant’s scoring average to 28.8 points. Think he can get back to 30 this season?
- It wasn’t all good for Durant. Lewis was letting the newly named All-Star have it early on. The troubling thing is that it wasn’t so much an offensive clinic as it was just a lack of effort on Durant’s part. Lewis effortlessly drilled a 3 as Durant jogged out to contest on one possession, and on another Lewis drove by Durant, missed a shot and grabbed his own board in the paint for an uncontested putback. Durant had given up on the play and watched from near the 3-point line.
- Westbrook was a blur all night. He drove down the paint and attacked the rim at will. Got to think that it helped that Wizards center JaVale McGee missed the game with the flu. Without McGee, the Wizards had no one who could protect the paint. And Westbrook exploited it.
- For some reason, Westbrook had a tough time sinking free throws, though. He missed three of his first six, failing to fully capitalize on the pressure he was putting on the defense, and went 11-for-16 on the night.
- Westbrook made an absolutely gorgeous pass on a fast break midway through the second quarter. It was a three-on-two with Durant on the left and Serge Ibaka trailing. It looked like Westbrook was about to force the lob to Durant. Instead, he wisely over-penetrated and whipped a pass over his head to Ibaka, who was fouled going up for a dunk. Looked like a sure sign of Westbrook’s underrated court sense.
- It should be against the rules for a point guard to lead the game in rebounding. Westbrook had 13 tonight to go with his 35 points and 13 assists. It was his third triple-double this season.
- A lot of questions about why Ibaka got only 13 minutes tonight. Brooks provided an answer. “We got their bigs in foul trouble and we went with a smaller lineup,” Brooks said. “And so I had a choice to make (between) Nick and Serge and I chose Nick. I thought Nick was really focused into the game, and he sets great screens. He got KD and Russell a lot of open looks. It’s nothing Serge didn’t do. It’s just they gave us one big at a time. I chose to go with Nick. But Serge will be back Sunday and play his normal game.”
- Brooks made some other unusual substitutions. He sat Durant nine minutes into the game (probably because he was a dog on defense as mentioned above), and he gave James Harden the hook in favor of Daequan Cook with 3:33 left in the first quarter.
- Brooks keeps Harden on a short leash and I don’t understand why. Harden made a smart play late in the first half when he caught a pass at the top of the arc and, instead of settling for a 3, drove hard to the basket and drew a foul. But as Harden walked in front of the bench on his way to the stripe, Brooks pointed out something he should have done, either on that play or another, rather than show him some love for what he had just done right. Harden smacked his thigh and shook his head, accepting the constructive critique. But how is Harden ever going to build confidence like that?
- Aside from Brooks’ visibly short leash, I kept wondering why he was giving Cook an almost equal amount of minutes as Harden in the first half. Then Cook made two of his three 3-pointers. Cook finished with nine points on 3-for-9 shooting while adding five rebounds. Wasn’t the greatest game. But at least somebody was making 3s.
- Blatche couldn’t stay on the floor tonight because of foul trouble. And that was a huge help for the Thunder. It’s players like Blatche that the Thunder has struggled with all season. Blatche had three fouls in three minutes in the first half and spent 21 minutes of the first half on the bench.
- Instead of Blatche, it was Trevor Booker. He torched the Thunder to the tune of 21 points and 12 rebounds. Give me Booker on my team any day. He’s Carl Landry, Glen Davis and DeJuan Blair, mixed with a little Blake Griffin.
- There were a few questions on press row about whether Wall is full healthy. Wall wore a black sleeve over his left knee and looked to be favoring it throughout the game. He sure didn’t put much pressure on Westbrook or the Thunder’s defense with his speed and explosiveness. Almost all of Wall’s 19 shots were jumpers. When he knifed his way down the lane in the third quarter, Wall blew a layup on an attempt he would normally dunk. Something’s got to be wrong there. I doubt we saw the real John Wall tonight.
- Speaking of health, Thabo Sefolosha obviously missed tonight’s game. He has a sprained knee and isn’t sure how much time he might miss. Brooks said after the game that he was better today and could play Sunday.
- Wall is going to be a good one, though. Trust me. He had an off night and scored 13 points with 10 assists, five rebounds an no turnovers. We’re talking about a point guard who is 45 games into his career and played only one year of college.
- The Thunder failed to get off a shot at the end of the third quarter. Against the Celtics, I’d understand. Against the Wizards…
- The Thunder has now won six straight at home and is 17-6 inside Oklahoma City Arena. Starting to wonder if a real home court advantage (that leads to wins) is finally making its way to OKC.
- Seeing Yi Jianlian airball a jumper in the first half brought back a memory of a story I was once told that seems fitting. It was the 2007 draft. The Sonics took Jeff Green fifth overall and let the highly hyped Yi fall to Milwaukee with the 6th pick. The decision sparked outrage. Seattle fans were sure it was just another sign that Clay Bennett and Sam Presti were trying to sabotage the Sonics’ fan base and franchise. If Sonics fans had it their way Yi would be Durant’s running mate instead of Green. Now chew on that the next time you’re disgusted with Green.
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