Thunder Gets Back On Track Against Jazz
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s 106-94 win over Utah.
- This is what the Thunder needed. A game that never was close. An outcome that was never in doubt. Sunday’s loss to the Raptors is over and done with. But tonight’s win is what that game should have looked like. Give the Thunder credit, though, for coming out and doing what it needed to do tonight.
- The Thunder did everything tonight that they couldn’t do Sunday. They made shots. They protected the paint. They scored in transition. And they never let Utah rally, gain confidence or momentum.
- The only thing the Thunder didn’t do tonight was share the ball much. Through three quarters, these guys had eight assists. And it didn’t look like they had that many. There was not a lot of ball movement tonight, and that is never a good sign. But when you get away with it and win by 12 it’s no big deal. The Thunder might not want to play that way against, say, Portland on Sunday.
- Most important thing that happened tonight was Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant finding their shooting strokes. After combining for 42 points go 13 of 40 shooting Sunday, the two netted 60 points on 19 of 29 shooting tonight.
- Can’t say I was a fan of Westbrook’s shot selection tonight. Many of his attempts came on either pull-up jumpers in transition within four or five seconds of the shot clock or on explosive drives to the layup where he calls his own number. It was hero mode without the Thunder being down. Some would call it, well, selfish. But the guy scored 31 so what do I know, right? I was just more of a fan of how KD got his. In the flow. In rhythm. In an incredible display of efficiency. Durant let Westbrook do his thing in the first half, taking just three shots to get his 12 first-half points. KD never demanded the ball and never forced anything. Not many guys can get 29 on 12 shots.
- KD had 12 points on three shots in the first half. That’s because he made 10 of 11 free throws in the first 24 minutes. That’s a good three games for most players. Durant did it in 19 minutes! He finished 13 of 15 from the stripe.
- If Perk is one of the, if not the, league’s best low-post man defender, why is the Thunder still digging down and showing or sending double teams? Thabo Sefolosha sagged off of Gordon Hayward and showed just enough on Al Jefferson early in the first period for Hayward to drill a 3-pointer when Big Al kicked it out.
- This game might not have been the best one to ask the previous question. Big Al absolutely destroyed Perk down low. Perk admitted as much after the game.
- Here’s what Perk told me after the game when I asked about that tactic. “We told him not to,” Perkins said. “He just did it on his own. That’s just being defensive minded. We’re going to do it as a whole. At the end of the day, you’ve got to show help for everybody. I actually like that he was digging. I’m used to being on an island by myself all the time.”
- That answer by Perk is nothing but interesting. So interesting I had to give the reason its own bullet. Think about it, the Thunder is so used to having to help on the post that its become second nature. Perk might like it, but it’s a part of what’s been killing this team. It might take some time for the perimeter players to figure out they don’t have to help nearly as much, especially with Serge Ibaka providing weak side shot-blocking.
- Last thing on that: Perkins said tonight that Sefolosha is his new favorite defender. And he raved about him and all that he does well. It wasn’t a solicited response, just a random outburst after his post-game interview had concluded. And it was a surprising but significant set of statements. Since the tape recorders were turned off at this point, I’ll try to get Perk at practice Thursday and follow up with him on it. Look for a story breaking down the why in Friday’s paper.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks gave it up to Thabo, too. His praise, like Perk’s, was unsolicited. “The guy you probably don’t say much about is Thabo,” Brooks said. “Thabo really made their 2s and 3s take tough shots and miss a whole lot of shots. He just does a whole lot of things that help you win. You don’t see a lot of the things he does in the stat sheet.”
- Every time I see the Jazz play I think about how the Thunder might be different if Utah didn’t match that offer sheet to C.J. Miles two summers ago and it was him in OKC and not Sefolosha. Miles struggled tonight (2-for-12 shooting), but I absolutely love what he can do on the court.
- Perk got hit with his second technical in as many games. This time he slapped Paul Millsap’s hand out of his chest following a play that started with Millsap delivering an intentional elbow disguised as a back-down move into Perk’s chest. I love Perk’s intensity and toughness. But at this rate, dude might lead the Thunder in techs at the end of the year in only 17 games.
- If anyone knows how the halftime act Quick Change does their thing, please tell me in the comments. I’m begging you!
- Nick Collison was fired up late in the third quarter. The Thunder was coming out of a timeout with a 72-65 lead and he was pumping up his teammates like he wanted them to finish off Utah in that final 1:52. He had a bounce in his step and did everything with a little more intensity. It was quite impressive. The Thunder only extended its lead by two at the close of the quarter. But it was a classic case of Collison doing things the box score doesn’t show.
- Lot of questionable calls tonight. And I think I’m being kind when I use the term questionable. That’s really all I have to say about the officiating. Interesting, though, that the NBA’s Director of Officials, Ronnie Nunn, was in the house tonight. He probably has a notebook filled from front to back after this one.
- Someone on Twitter asked me why Ibaka (who was great tonight I should note) always rubs on the basketball after the first of two foul shots. I asked him that after the game and he said it’s just a routine he does to get pumped up, something to draw motivation from. To that I say, whatever helps you get 15, 13 and 4, Serge.
- Up next is a game against Minnesota Friday. No Kevin Love in that one, which effectively makes Minnesota about as irrelevant as an NBA team can get. Shame.
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