Give the people what they want, Scott Brooks…And the players for that matter.
Up and down. Fast-paced. High octane.
It’s what we saw in Friday night’s 127-108 win over the Washington Wizards, arguably the most entertaining game the Ford Center has seen this season, with the three-point overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers the only other contest that comes remotely close.
But Brooks backed away from almost everything that made this game fun. Didn’t like the score. Didn’t like his team’s commitment to offense and lack of attention to detail on defense. Didn’t like that the Thunder succumbed to an opponent’s style of play.
How about the result, Scotty?
“It was a good win,” Brooks said before immediately transforming into all-out party-pooper. “We won the game, but it’s not the way we like to play basketball. We’re not a team that’s going to score 30 points in four quarters.”
To that I asked, why not? Why not make it a shootout? Why not turn the game into a catch-me-if-you-can contest?
Seems a reasonable method since the Thunder has more offensive-oriented players than defensive, right? Brooks says not so much, maintaining that this team is not built for a shootout. Not now. Not ever. This team’s identity, Brooks said, is defense.
“We have to get it straight,” Brooks said, “our players understand that you get burned more times than not if you play this style of basketball with our group right now and where we are as a team. We have to continue to get better defensively.”
Every player on the roster, especially the eight who played the majority of minutes in Friday night’s blowout, will tell you that that faster pace is more fun.
“It’s fun to play like that when it’s going well, especially the way we played tonight,” said Jeff Green after the game.
Said James Harden: “It’s fun. It’s just like in high school. It’s like the way you were raised.”
Said Kevin Durant: “It’s kind of 50-50. We could have slowed it down a little bit more. But we also had a lot of opportunities to run, which we like.”
The problem is this defensive philosophy is paying dividends. Before Friday night, the Thunder was 0-5 in games it allowed 100 points or more. OKC was limiting opponents to a little more than 90 points per game and the method was manifesting itself into wins.
For young teams like the Thunder, it’s easy to get sucked into high-scoring affairs. Easy to forget that defense wins games and fourth-quarter stops still matter most. It’s why Brooks preaches defense and will continue to no matter how much his team lights up the scoreboard.
“We can’t get baited into playing this way,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to get better at playing our style of basketball. We have to do things according to who we are. And we are a defensive team that gets stops.”
- Thabo Sefolosha was again a defensive star. He started out on Mike Miller, completely shutting him down and taking him out of the game, then briefly switched over to Caron Butler at the start of the third quarter and played significant minutes on Gilbert Arenas near the end.
- As I wrote in Saturday’s paper, the thing that stood out most to me was the resiliency that the Thunder showed throughout the game. The Wizards battled back from at least eight point deficits four times and the Thunder staved off Washington each time and never let the Wizards take the lead.
- The Thunder scored at least 30 points in all four quarters, the first time it has done that this season.
- Before the game, I asked Jeff Green about his eight-game slump. He didn’t sound too worried about it. Then he went out and scored 11 points with six rebounds in the first quarter and had a double-double by halftime. Welcome back, Mr. Green.
- The end of the game wasn’t pretty, as Washington put on a full-court press that the Thunder struggled to break and nearly allowed Washington to get back into the game. Brooks said it was his fault. “I wish I could blame the press-break offense on somebody else but I put that in today. It wasn’t good,” he said.
- The Thunder was outrebounded 34-29 through three quarters and finished the game ahead 42-40.
- Unsettling, however, was that the Wizards had 16 offensive rebounds. Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood combined for 13.
- With his perimeter shooting, James Harden is starting to provide exactly what we all expected him to when he was drafted third overall. He made four of six 3-pointers Friday and is now 10-for-13 from behind the line over the past two games.
- The most shocking thing about this game was that the Thunder scored 127 points and only one player, James Harden, scored off the bench. I’ve never seen anything like that.
- Harden’s 25 points were six more than the Wizards’ entire bench had.
- Kevin Durant scored 35 on 12-for-22 shooting, bouncing back nicely after his season-low 12 point effort against Orlando. He’s attacking the rim more than he’s ever done and getting to the free throw line much more than he has at any point in his career. It was the fifth time in seven games that KD has scored at least 30 points, and I’m starting to think he could average 30 for the season.
- Brooks went with an eight-man rotation because of the funky lineups that the Wizards play with, rarely using a big other than Haywood. As a result, Nick Collison was the odd man out, playing just 2 minutes, 21 seconds.
- Brooks might not like an offensive-oriented game, but 11-for-21 from the 3-point line, 53 percent shooting and 28 fast-break points is awfully fun.
- Gilbert Arenas is fun to watch live. He might not be Agent Zero yet but he is again one of the most dangerous point guards in the league. His hesitation game is crazy.
THEY SAID IT
- Scott Brooks on the win: “It was a good win. We got a lot of pride on our home court. We won the game, but it’s not the way we like to play basketball. We’re not a team that’s going to score 30 points in four quarters. We have to stick with our principles, our core values. That is getting stops and running out after misses. But we will take the win.”
- Brooks on the Wizards: “That is a good basketball team that has finally gotten healthy…Now that they have their full team they’re going to win a lot of games.”
- Brooks on James Harden: “James was really good tonight. He had a lot of confidence going into the game. I thought he played very hard in Orlando in the fourth quarter along with the other guys that were in that game. And he came into tonight’s game feeling good. And he should. He’s been working hard for the last six weeks or so and you see improvement.”
- Brooks on Jeff Green: “Jeff created his offense by just getting after it defensively. I thought he was physical. He was playing with toughness. Jeff is a guy that we need to be consistent and tonight he was. He got a lot of rebounds. I think he got nine or 10 in the first half along with his points. But we need that position to play that way. And when we’re a good basketball team he plays with a lot of heart and desire like he showed tonight.”
- Harden on being more comfortable: “The more games into the season and the more I’m on the court with different guys the more I get a feel for how that person plays. So the more games we play the more comfortable I’ll be and the better off I’ll be.”
- Harden on tweaking his shooting mechanics: “Just having confidence, whether it’s my elbow or following through every shot. Just having that confidence to shoot the ball every time it touches your hand let it go. The coaches have been telling me the same thing. It’s no point in me being out on the court and not wanting to shoot the ball.”
- Kevin Durant on impressing family and friends back home: “It feels real good, especially to win. That was my first time beating the Wizards since I’ve been in the league. So it felt good to at least get some bragging rights while I’m at home.”
- Durant on Green: “I texted him after the game in Orlando once we got home and told him we all have bad games but never get down and I always got his back. I’m always going to be his brother on and off the court. So we kind of talked and he got that off his chest and we went to work the next day on the off day. That’s the kind of player Jeff Green is. Even if he’s playing not as well as he wanted to he comes back and he works hard and produces a great game the next one.”
BY THE NUMBERS
6: Assists for Kevin Durant, a season-high
14: Rebounds for Jeff Green, a season-high and one shy of his career-high.
19: Biggest lead for the Thunder.
25: Points for James Harden, a career-high.
127: Points for the Thunder, a season-high and the most scored by the franchise since 2001.
18,203: The announced attendance at the Ford Center, the fourth sellout in six games.