Thunder’s Offense Goes Cold In The Third
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s 98-91 loss at Portland.
- Kevin Durant had a look in his eye from the start tonight. This was one of those first-quarter performances by a star player where you just knew he remembered what a team had done to him the last time they met. Even though the Thunder beat the Blazers on Sunday, Durant clearly had his 5 of 18 shooting in mind. And KD came out with purpose. He made his first three shots, all jumpers (didn’t know that would foreshadow the ultimate storyline now did we) and pulled the rip move on a 3. He finished with 13 in the opening quarter. But the look he gave Nicolas Batum after hitting a deep jumper over him and watching Batum trip all over himself while trying to defend it said it all. That glare at both Batum and the Blazers fans said ‘tonight ain’t gonna be y’alls night!’
- Then the second quarter started. Durant went 4-for-17 in the final three quarters. I don’t remember seeing KD have such a sizzling started and such a fugly finish. “I’ve seen it,” Durant said with a slight laugh. “Last game against them I started pretty well and ended bad.”
- As he was pouring in points in the first quarter, Durant said he thought he was headed for a big night: “I was getting everything in the flow of the offensive rhythm of the game,” Durant said. “Being aggressive. And I was that way in the second half. It just didn’t fall for me.”
- Surprisingly, Durant was in great spirits after this one. Typically, he insists he won’t get sleep after nights like this. But in analyzing his performance tonight, he provided the rather comical quote of the night: “I got like five wide open 3s. It felt great leaving my hands and…Boing. All I could do was laugh at it.”
- Now about that third quarter. First let me say, YUCK! OK, now that that’s out of the way how about some analysis. The Thunder clearly settled for jump shots. You could see that trend developing from the opening minutes. And in the end, OKC went 4-for-19…and 14 of those shot attempts were from 17 feet and beyond.
- The Blazers strung together a 15-0 run in the third period after the Thunder went up 65-57. Including the first three minutes of the third, the run was 19-6 and turned the Thunder’s 59-53 halftime lead into a 72-65 deficit.
- Here’s Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ take on the third period: “They were playing good defense, challenging us, making us take tough shots. And we were missing the easy ones when we did get them. We got 3-point happy, I thought. We were taking too many 3s. We’ve improved our 3-point shooting as the season’s gone along. But I thought we settled for too many outside shots tonight.”
- Uh, the Thunder took 27 3-points tonight. That’s a season-high. The previous high was 26, set on Nov. 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers in L.A.
- I thought Eric Maynor summed up this loss perfectly. “It means we’re 14-3 in the last 17 games,” he said. Translation: don’t freak out. That third quarter might have been ugly, and Durant’s performance might have made you puke. But in the end, it’s just one game. And unlike the final loss here last year, it doesn’t cost the Thunder anything in the standings.
- I’m not one to point at officiating. But there were two very questionable calls inside the final minute and a half. First, Russell Westbrook was whistled for a loose ball foul as he tried to poke away the ball and dart the other way. Westbrook’s hand caught Rudy Fernandez in the kisser. There was indeed contact. But it came after Westbrook had poked away the ball. That call gave the Blazers the ball back with a 92-85 lead. And after Portland got it back, Serge Ibaka got called for a very questionable call following a block on a Fernandez drive. Ibaka blocked the shot but Fernandez’s momentum carried him into Ibaka. That call gave the Blazers two foul shots and Fernandez made one, bumping the lead to 93-85.
- Not surprisingly the Thunder took the high road about the two calls. Brooks said the officials have one of the hardest jobs. Durant said they were bang, bang, 50/50 plays that could have gone either way “and you can’t get made at those guys.”
- On Sunday, it was Gerald Wallace who torched the Thunder for 40 points. Tonight, it was LaMarcus Aldridge who dumped in a game-high 32. My question was why was Kendrick Perkins on L.A. the majority of the night. Brooks answered by saying Perk had some success against L.A. in Sunday’s meeting.
- Perk came out for the second half trying to get inside Aldridge’s head. He was being much more physical with him and essentially playing him nose to nose, egging him by adding a little smack. Aldridge, at one time, laughed it off. But it looked like it might have been working.
- The refs put a quick end to that, though, calling Perk for two quick fouls in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Perk couldn’t be physical with Aldridge or Marcus Camby. Perk then had to sit after picking up his fourth foul, third in the third quarter, with 8:37 left in the period. But it made me think: I can’t wait until the playoffs start and the style of play lets the players be much more physical. I have a feeling Perk’s impact is really going to be felt then.
- I think Perk’s favorite phrase on the court is “Come on!”
- Poor shooting aside, KD’s defensive effort was rock solid for much of this one. He stripped the ball from Blazers players on multiple occasions and his lock and chase effort on Batum on one possession was particularly impressive because it stalled the Blazers’ offense and helped force a shot clock violation. Durant also was a factor on the boards, pulling down a game-high 11.
- It should also be noted that the Thunder as a team never let its offense negatively impact its defensive effort. OKC stuck with it and continued to get stops even though nothing would fall on the other end.
- How about James Harden‘s first half? Seventeen points on 5-for-8 shooting. Harden was aggressive and was shooting with confidence. But the play I liked most was the hustle play he had when he stole the ball from Wallace and went in for a three-point play.
- One fan seated directly in front of me had grown tired of Harden in the first half. After Harden drilled a 3-pointer, the fan said, ‘He looks like Mr. T. He’s killing us. He’s got 17 points!”
- Dan Aykroyd was in the building. Is he from Portland?
- I liked what Thabo Sefolosha did a few times passing up a jumper to feed a much more consistent shooter in Ibaka. With Wes Matthews playing off Sefolosha and roaming all over the court, KD once kicked out to a wide open Sefolosha on the wing. Sefolosha made the extra pass to get Ibaka a baseline J. On another possession, Sefolosha started to drive but dished to Ibaka at the free throw line area and watched Ibaka sink another jumper. I loved that Sefolosha didn’t force anything. I’d love it more if he could make defenses pay.
- After the first quarter, the Thunder held a 12-2 rebounding edge on the Blazers. That led to a 6-0 advantage in second-chance points. And the tables were turned in the second. Portland only out-rebounded OKC 12-10 in the second period, but the Blazers had a 10-2 advantage in second-chance points.
- Where did that putback dunk from Fernandez come from with 9:42 left in the second? I wasn’t expecting that.
- Is Durant’s step back jumper his prettiest move?
- Brandon Roy didn’t check in until the 2:34 mark of the first quarter. And he played just 14 minutes, 39 seconds tonight as the Blazers continue to limit his minutes for health reasons. It’s truly sad seeing that.
- Lost in the third-quarter woes was the job the Thunder’s reserves did in the first half. After the starters helped build a 30-20 first quarter lead, the second unit preserved it. That was no small task seeing as how the Blazers’ “second unit” was comprised of Roy, Fernandez, Batum, Wallace and either Camby or Aldridge. All of those guys are either starters, have-been starters, should-be starters or could-be starters. And a lineup of, mostly, Maynor, Harden, Daequan Cook, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed held their own.
- It was fun watching how the reserve backcourts of Roy/Fernandez and Maynor/Harden couldn’t guard each other whatsoever.
- I kind of wanted to ask Batum tonight if there was a Thunder player he thought stunk on defense. Never know what he might say.
- Obligatory update on a few old Sonics fans: Two signs I saw read, “Plunder” atop the OKC Thunder logo, and “Where 41 years happened.”
- Next to me where two media seats reserved for 60 minutes. Kind of unusual. I’m told the show is putting together a piece on Blazers owner Paul Allen.
- Nick Collison tackled Matthews while trying to prevent a fast break. It looked unintentional, though, as Collison’s momentum carried him into a breaking Matthews.
- There was a lady during a timeout in the second quarter who had a halfcourt shot for a chance to win a Toyota. After spinning a Wheel-of-Fortune type wheel of Toyota makes and landing on a Prius, she missed the shot. But how cool would it have been if Scotty Brooks, as a Prius owner and Prius believer, picked up the tab?
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