Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win over Philadelphia.
- Serge Ibaka played a great first quarter. His defense was on point the entire period aside from a slow close out on Spencer Hawes that allowed an open jumper. But he was a pest in the passing lanes when Hawes was at the high post, tipping one early pass to spark a run-out on one early trip. Ibaka also was active around the rim, gobbling up one offensive rebound early and getting the stick-back.
- What I didn’t understand was why Thunder coach Scott Brooks put Nenad Krstic on Elton Brand to start the game instead of Ibaka. Krstic is a better position defender, yeah, but it seems like Ibaka could have used his length and athleticism to better contest Brand’s shot. But Brand got going early, making his first three shots. The Thunder is fortunate that flame didn’t grow into an uncontrollable fire. Ibaka later started the second half on Brand.
- James Harden got off to a great start, save one charging foul. Then he picked up his third foul and was forced to sit early in the second quarter. It was a pretty crummy way for Harden to have to sit. He doesn’t need anything else cooling him off. This looked like the perfect kind of game to get him going.
- Leb by Russell Westbrook, the ball movement looked much better in the first half. Westbrook had eight assists at halftime and finished with 12 for the game. The Thunder had 17 as a team, which still isn’t great, but it ties a season-high that’s been done three other times. Brooks spent the past two practices working on the offense, and it looked much better tonight for stretches. “This is a start,” Harden said. “It’s back to our old ways as far as everybody touching the ball. Everybody’s getting open shots. We just have to really lock in on the defensive end because that’s going to help our offense in transition.”
- Thabo Sefolosha played his tail off tonight. And it was one of those impact games that doesn’t show up in the box score. His energy was high from the start and it trickled down to his teammates. He played some great D on Evan turner and Louis Williams, and for the first time all season, he was resourceful offensively by cutting to the basket instead of camping out at the foul line.
- We had to wait two years to see them, but effective inbounds plays that lead to baskets have finally made their way to the Thunder. The pass Sefolosha had to Westbrook with one second left on the shot clock was as good as it gets. It pushed a three-point lead to five with 2:33 remaining and was huge in preserving this win.
- Westbrook and Kevin Durant each had 31 points tonight. And something that could become more interesting to watch as the season goes on will be how Durant and Westbrook play off each other offensively. Last year, it was Durant who could put up 30 in his sleep. Now, Westbrook has joined that club. That’s a great tandem to have, but it could create complications, especially while they’re still learning how to cater to one another. There was a time when Westbrook should have deferred to Durant at all times. But that time has passed. Westbrook must now take over games whenever KD doesn’t have it going. Who knows how it will it play out? There isn’t another team in the league that can even come close to making a sound argument that it possesses a top five player and top five point guard.
- There were several questionable calls by the refs in this one.
- I’ve long been a bit of an apologists for Durant’s defense. But tonight, he was downright awful. KD allowed Andres Nocioni to burn him on at least three run-outs. I’m talking outlet pass, one dribble, dunk type of run-outs. Nocioni also beat KD backdoor once in the second half. Durant pretty much dogged it defensively tonight, and it was a big reason the Sixers had 19 fast break points.
- So much for the Thunder being a better 3-point shooting team. OKC shot 2-for-14 from deep tonight, dropping its already league-low percentage to an even worse 23 percent. The perimeter shot was not just bad tonight. It was embarrassing. Sixers reserve guard Jodie Meeks, in 22 minutes, made twice as many 3-pointers than the entire Thunder team.
- Durant’s “neighbor” was at the game. I saw him briefly after the game. He looks much older than his internet character.
- Former Thunder guard Desmond Mason sat courtside.
- The Thunder went 35 of 37 at the foul line. The team’s free throw shooting is turning into a deadly weapon to close out games with.