The date was Feb. 28, 2009.
That’s when the Thunder recorded its fourth road win last season, a full four months into the season.
Shocking isn’t it?
But in what’s become the latest bit of evidence of how much Oklahoma City has improved, the Thunder secured its fourth road win Tuesday night at Miami, just three weeks into the 2009-10 season. It was a dominating 100-87 win over Miami at American Airlines Arena, one that bumped the Thunder’s road record to 4-2, or half its win total from last season’s 41 road games.
Good teams win on the road, and Tuesday’s win proves the Thunder is blossoming into a good team. This 6-5 start is no fluke. Oklahoma City has a better road record than it does at home (2-3). Granted, Miami is far from the toughest place to win in the league. Heat officials were so desperate for fans that two entire sections in the upper deck were allowed to move down to the lower bowl. But the Thunder has also gone into Detroit, San Antonio and Los Angeles and won, holding off talented Pistons, Spurs and Clippers teams in the fourth quarter with solid late-game execution and exceptional defense.
Road wins are vital for any team looking to land in the postseason when the regular season music stops in mid-April. Seven of last season’s 16 playoff teams finished above .500 on the road. Another two, Portland and Houston, were one game under .500 away from their home buildings. The Thunder could be on that same track, especially when you consider OKC’s two road losses, at Houston and at Sacramento, both came down to the fourth quarter, the Kings loss ending with a last-second shot that could have forced overtime.
Since that letdown in Sacramento, the Thunder has now won three straight road games. Oklahoma City’s 4-2 road record now trails only Phoenix (6-2), Portland and Dallas (both 5-2) in the Western Conference.
The best sign is that the Thunder is succeeding because of a commitment to defense. The Thunder held Miami to 43.1 percent shooing and limited a hot-handed Heat team to 5-for-18 shooting from behind the 3-point line. OKC now ranks fourth in opponent scoring, allowing just 90.1 points per game. The Heat’s point total was the seventh time in 11 games that the Thunder has held an opponent to less than 100 points. On one of the four occasions that a team did score in triple digits on the Thunder, it took the Los Angeles Lakers overtime to notch its 101-98 win.
One thing that has been proven early this season, though, is the Thunder, because of its youth, is as erratic as it is stingy. The Thunder followed up big wins against San Antonio and Orlando with heart-breakers against Sacramento and the Clippers. Oklahoma City very well could travel to Orlando for Wednesday’s game against the Magic and get run out of Amway Arena.
But the Thunder is now conscious of how to win and confident it can clinch victory on anyone’s court. And at this rate, would anyone really be surprised if the Thunder beat the Magic in Orlando on Wednesday, even if Oklahoma City didn’t see road win No. 5 until March 10?
- Russell Westbrook and Jermaine O’Neal got into it late in the first half, exchanging words and shoves after Westbrook’s offensive foul on Mario Chalmers. It was an odd sequence that looked to have started with O’Neal trying to hold up Westbrook after bodies collided before then shoving him away. Westbrook took exception and charged O’Neal but was restrained by Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.
- Kevin Durant is finding his shooting stroke. He finished with 32 points, nine rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes and was 11-for-23 from the field. It was the fourth time in five games that he’s scored at least 30 points.
- Offensively, Jeff Green was quiet again tonight, scoring just 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting. But defensively, it’s important to realize that Michael Beasley scored just eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.
- Thabo Sefolosha had to be the player of the game for the Thunder. His defense on Dwyane Wade made this game worth watching. From the Heat’s opening possession you could tell Wade was in for a tough night. He looked like a carefree MVP candidate, running through the motions while being unaware he was going up against one of the league’s up-and-coming bulldog defenders. Sefolosha forced Wade into a tough shot that missed badly, and by the end of the game Wade needed 19 shots to get his 22 points and turned the ball over a season-high six times.
- Scott Brooks after the game called this Russell Westbrook’s best game. Westbrook had 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go with seven assists and only two turnovers. But it was the defensive end of the court which Brooks praised Westbrook for setting the tone for himself and the Thunder.
- Nick Collison was huge off the bench with 10 points and six boards in 24 minutes.
- Kevin Ollie was his usual steady self, avoiding mistakes while but not making much happen. He went scoreless in 15 minutes but had three steals and one assist.
- Serge Ibaka again got some burn inside the final three minutes of the first half. And now I have to ask Brooks the next time I see him what is it about that stretch that he likes giving Ibaka some run.
- Daequan Cook tried to spoil the Thunder’s party, scoring 14 of his 17 in the fourth quarter.
- The Thunder is 6-5. OKC was 6-32 last year.
- The Thunder had a 20-1 run in this game. That seems almost impossible.
- The Thunder made 21 of 22 free throws. Shame on Nick Collison for messing with the streak. : )
THEY SAID IT
- Scott Brooks on the team’s defensive identity: “Going into training camp in late September, we were focused on the defensive end. After last season, we felt one area we were going to need to improve was defensive basketball. We needed to play with a toughness and we needed to have an identity of playing with defensive thoughts in our mind from the first practice. And I thought the guys really bought in. They’re doing a great job. We’re not perfect. We’re still understanding what we need to do, but we’re trying to do a really good job of helping each other defend.”
- Brooks on the team’s growth since camp: “We wanted to start off playing basketball that we could be proud of, our fans could be proud of, our ownership could be proud of. We are creating an identity to play winning basketball. That is competing for each other every time down court and playing unselfish basketball. We talk about keeping effort in the game and keeping selfishness out of the game. I thought we did that tonight. It was displayed throughout the game.”
- Brooks on the team’s composure down the stretch: “I love the way Coach Erik coaches the team. He coaches them hard and he makes them play physical basketball. It’s a good challenge for us. We are trying to be more physical as the days go by, and I thought this was a big test going into tonight’s game that we were going to play one of the more disciplined, physically-tough teams in basketball. And I thought we did a good job of not backing down. I’m proud of the guys’ effort because they battled throughout the game.”
- Brooks on Russell Westbrook: “I thought Russell, from the start of the game, dictated the game with his defense. He challenged himself to be a 94-feet pressure point guard and that’s what we need. I thought it actually not only sparked our team, it sparked his play throughout the game. I thought this was his best game.”
- Brooks on Thabo Sefolosha’s defense on Dwyane Wade: “Thabo did a great job, but we focused on Dwyane with four other defenders. That’s one of the things going into the game, we wanted to make his touches very difficult and we wanted to keep him off the free throw line. He got to the line too many times in the first half, but I thought the entire team defense did a good job on the weak side. But he missed some shots. He missed some shots that he would normally make.”
- Brooks on Jameer Nelson being out for Orlando: “They have two good point guards, veteran point guards. One championship point guard in Jason Williams and they have Anthony Johnson. I’m sure it’s going to hurt them, but we have to go in there and play our basketball. We want to continue to play good basketball, make winning plays throughout the game for each other.”
- Kevin Durant on Sefolosha’s defense: “He’s unbelievable, man. He’s so long and athletic and he causes a lot of problems. He got his hands up on Dwyane’s shots. But (Wade) is a great player. He made shots. We just wanted to make Dwyane see five players and that’s what we did tonight.”
- Durant on winning on the road: “We wanted to get stops. Dwyane Wade’s a fourth-quarter player so we wanted to stop him. And also Daequan Cook was in the lineup and can hit big shots. It was a great team defensive effort. We played hard and it was a great win for us.”
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Straight road wins for the Thunder.
4: Steals by Thabo Sefolosha, the third time he’s had four this season.
10: Points for Nick Collison, a season-high.
11: Turnovers for the Thunder, a season-low.
100: Points by the Thunder, now 4-0 when scoring 100 points or more.
14,443: Announced attendance at American Airlines Arena.