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Thunder 104, Hornets 93

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm •  Published: February 2, 2011

Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win over New Orleans.

  • Scott Brooks said Serge Ibaka wasn’t in the doghouse. Brooks insisted much of the reason Ibaka sat the bench the previous two games was because of matchups. A side issue was Ibaka’s lack of energy against the Heat. Against the Hornets, the matchups were more favorable and Ibaka brought the energy. In a big way. Ibaka had three blocks in the first quarter alone and was a major presence on both ends. He finished with eight points, 12 boards and six blocks in 33 minutes.
  • When asked about Ibaka’s performance during his postgame press conference, Brooks had a little fun at my expense. “He finally got out of the doghouse and played,” Brooks said. “I was Serge’s best teammate tonight. I gave him some minutes.”
  • For Wednesday’s  paper, I wrote about how Trevor Ariza has had success against Kevin Durant this season. Sure enough, Durant quickly put an end to that. Late in the first half, KD had 19 points and was perfect from the floor (5-for-5), the 3-point line (3-for-3) and the foul line (6-for-6). Durant finished with 21 points in the first half en route to 43 for the game.
  • This is the third time in four games that Durant has scored at least 40 points. Tonight’s scoring surge bumped his season average to 29.2 points. Back-to-back scoring titles, here Durant comes.
  • What impressed me the most about Durant is that he stopped shooting with 5 1/2 minutes left despite sitting on 43 points. He could have forced his way to 50. But he decided to make the right play instead. He found or created open shots for Jeff Green, Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka. They didn’t finish plays and get Durant an assist. But his unselfishness was noteworthy.
  • Something else that will probably get lost in Durant’s performance: rebounds. Durant had 10 of them and really picked it up in the second half when his team needed it most. With the exception of one rebound opportunity that Durant sat there and watched all but fall into David West’s hands in the second half, Durant showed that he’s really focused on becoming a better rebounder. He’s averaged 10.8 boards over his past six games.
  • I loved Durant’s coast-to-coast baseline fadeaway to beat the third quarter buzzer. He got a high-percentage shot that he works on every single day. That pulling up from 28 feet crap never looked like it crossed his mind. And when Durant put it up, there was no doubt it would hit bottom. Durant, though, actually said he wanted to get even closer. “I wanted to get to the rim,” Durant said. “But they cut me off a little bit so I had to step back. I work on that shot a lot so I tried to put myself in good position to shoot a makeable shot. And I was able to get to where I wanted to shoot it.”
  • The Thunder’s defense in the first half was horrendous. The Hornets got layup after layup and open look after open look. New Orleans shot 55.8 percent in the first half. And once again, the Thunder’s offense, specifically Durant, had to bail it out.
  • OKC held New Orleans to 38 second-half points, including just 17 points on 4-for-20 shooting in the third quarter. That period, and the Thunder’s better ball security in the second half, was the difference in the game. “We just played harder,” Durant said. “Our body language was bad. We were looking for too much help at times. We started playing our man straight up, and I think we did a better job of just playing straight-up, one-on-one defense and we got some stops.”
  • Chris Paul had to leave the game midway through the first quarter when he stepped on Ibaka’s foot and rolled his left ankle on a fast break. Paul showed why he’s widely considered one of the toughest guys in the league when he returned to the game later. The guy never ceases to amaze me.
  • Very tough night for injuries. Ariza also left the game with an ankle injury. He did not return. Nenad Krstic was taken to the locker room late in the third quarter and did not return either. Krstic is being listed on the injury report with a sprained right foot. Krstic left the arena in a protective boot, but it was said to be for precautionary reasons. Krstic is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Thursday, but the Thunder will not practice Thursday so news about the severity of the injury and Krstic’s availability for Friday’s game at Phoenix won’t be known until Friday.
  • For the life of me, I can’t understand why James Harden jumps several times after his 3-point tries. The only thing I can think of is he’s not shooting with any confidence. It looks as though he’s willing the ball into the basket — and it never works. Somebody needs to pull him aside and tell him to take a shot with confidence. Jump once. Follow through. And trust your skills. Go back and watch the tape on this one. When Harden does trusts his stroke (watch his 3 w/ about six minutes left in the third), his shots go in.  When he doesn’t (twice in the first half), they miss badly.
  • Russell Westbrook made some boneheaded plays tonight. And I thought he was largely awful throughout much of this one. Westbrook swiped at Paul late in the first half, raking him across the face and giving up two unnecessary free throws. Paul converted both to push the Hornets’ lead to six with 59.2 seconds left in the half. Then, midway through the third quarter, Westbrook was too aggressive going for a loose ball near halfcourt that Paul clearly had under control. Westbrook ran into Paul and fouled him again. Paul had recovered the ball with one second left on the shot clock and would have had to toss it up from near halfcourt or take a shot clock violation. But Westbrook’s foul was his fourth, forcing him to sit, and it bailed out the Hornets. Not a good night for Russ.
  • Also not a good night to be in a courtside seat. During warmups, a lady seated by the Thunder’s first-half basket nearly got drilled in the face by a loose ball. Eric Maynor, eyes wide open with a look of shock and sheer concern, came over and said, “You OK? Nice catch, though.” Then, Westbrook accidentally barreled into a lady near the Hornets’ bench, so forcefully he sent beer from her plastic cup flying everywhere. On another play, Westbrook fired a pass into the second row by the Thunder’s bench and nearly took off a lady’s head. Expensive seats for that kind of danger. But here’s my thing. Three plays. Three women. Fellas, where are you? Why aren’t you protecting these ladies?
  • I recently questioned whether the Thunder might as well go ahead and look for deals for or involving Maynor. He is too good to be playing 12 minutes a night. But nights like tonight showed the importance of a steady backup point guard. With Westbrook basically stinking it up, Maynor came in and steadied his troops. His 22 minutes were his most since Nov. 17. Tonight, Maynor controlled the tempo. He played solid defense on Paul. He chipped in some needed offense. And most importantly, unlike Westbrook, he took care of the ball.
  • By now you know Cole Aldrich is back with the team. He was on the bench tonight in uniform. With his return, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Byron Mullens soon make his way to Tulsa. He’s in need of some playing time, no matter where it comes from.
  • Something tells me these two teams will meet again in mid-April. And I have absolutely no problem with that.
  • New Orleans head coach Monty Williams gets the final word. Because you’ll love what he said about Durant. “He’s probably the MVP of the league right now,” Williams said. “You put a string of games together like that and you put yourself in a different class. When you play with that kind of confidence — and when they play really well together, especially here — then he’s not just a special player. He becomes a standard for that position. When you do that, you put yourself in a different class.”

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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