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Thunder 110, Pacers 106

by Darnell Mayberry Published: November 27, 2010

Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win at Indiana.

  • If you had one game ball to hand out after this one, who would you give it to? Most of you would probably say Russell Westbrook. He had a career-high 43 points on 13 of 24 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds while dishing out eight assists and turning the ball over only three times. That’s certainly MVP worthy. But my game ball would go to Jeff Green. All you needed to do was see him limping around out there like Willis Reed tonight to understand why. Green played one of the gutsiest games I’ve seen in my five years of covering the NBA. He could barely walk on his bum left ankle but did anything and everything he could to help his team pull out this victory. His defense on Roy Hibbert while playing through pain served as the epitome of all the Thunder’s cliches about sacrifice, team, resiliency and commitment.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Green missed Sunday’s game at Houston. That ankle won’t get any better on the plane ride to Texas.
  • The reason I started this post posing the question about the game ball is because I got into a little debate about just that with Kevin Durant. You know where I stand. But you might be shocked to hear who gets his game ball. “The game ball goes to Byron Mullens,” Durant said. “Hibbert got it going for a little bit there and he came in and stopped him. He slowed him down a lot and that allowed us to get out and get some easy baskets.”
  • While I respectfully disagreed with Durant, Mullens was indeed huge. He played five minutes tonight, checking in with the Thunder down 64-50. Replacing an ineffective Serge Ibaka, who got the start for an injured Nenad Krstic (back spasms), Mullens played great defense on Hibbert and forced him further away from the basket while contesting his shots better at the rim when Hibbert did get good looks. Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “We had nobody to stop Hibbert, and I thought (Mullens) did a fantastic job of battling and fighting him and not giving in to his play. I thought those five minutes were a big part of our win. We had no answer for him at that point in the game. And Byron came in and (did something) that’s not easy.”
  • It would be easy to look at Durant’s 9-for-26 shooting (1-for-8 from 3-point range) and say he had a bad game. But his defense was excellent at times tonight. He was credited with only one blocked shot, but I counted two in the final minute and a half of regulation, on Hibbert no less, that helped the Thunder force overtime. Brooks had high praise for Durant’s D after the game. “I think he’s been our best defensive player the last three games, and I give him credit because he wants to be a special player. Special players have to be two-way players.”
  • Funny how Westbrook went scoreless for the only time in his career in this building last year and comes out hands 43 on the Pacers tonight. I asked Westbrook if these string of big-time scoring outings are doing anything for his confidence but he didn’t sound like they are. “I’m just playing,” Westbrook said. “I just go out and compete. That’s all I can do. Go out every night and compete and play my game and just be aggressive.”
  • Ibaka served as tonight’s shining example of how Brooks will not play players who aren’t playing good defense. Ibaka had just 17 minutes and didn’t touch the court again after Mullens replaced him with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter.
  • Instead of sticking with Ibaka, Brooks went small after Mullens’ valiant five minutes. Brooks opted to close the game with Westbrook, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, Green and Durant. Why? “We needed some scoring,” Brooks said. “We needed to get a difficult matchup for them. And Kevin and Jeff at the 4/5, I don’t think you can get away with it game in game out. And against certain teams you can’t. But I thought tonight we could have used that match-up, because their bigs had to really pay attention to Kevin and Jeff popping for 3s. And that opens up the paint for Russell to get to the basket. It’s a tough decision to make, but I’m glad I’m able to present other teams with that decision. Because KD at the 4 and Jeff at the 5, that’s a tough matchup when we fight and scrap defensively. But if we don’t fight and scrap defensively, and rebound as a committee, that’s not a good lineup. But we did that tonight.”
  • A few numbers for you to mull over: the Thunder is 3-1 after a loss, 2-0 in overtime, 6-1 on the road, 6-1 against the East and 8-0 in games decided by seven points or less. I’d say that’s impressive.
  • The Thunder won the free throw game 41-24 and made 36 to the Pacers’ 18. That helped the Thunder overcome its 38.9 percent shooting.
  • One thing I didn’t like about this game, and something that is starting to become somewhat of a disturbing trend, is Durant playing second fiddle to Westbrook. There is no doubt that Westbrook has been the Thunder’s best player through 16 games. But his assertiveness has forced Durant to take a backseat to him. That’s not Westbrook’s fault. It’s not anybody’s fault, really. It’s just sort of happening.  Even before it looked like it was going to be a long night for Durant offensively, he had to stand around and watch Westbrook go to work. I don’t think that’s good for Durant. When that happens, Durant forces shots more than he usually does, because he simply hasn’t gotten a touch in a while. And that doesn’t help anybody. It just makes things worse.
  • Thabo Sefolosha (13 points, 10 rebounds) notched his second double-double of the season and his sixth as a member of the Thunder. Sefolosha’s continued all-around play, coupled with Harden’s continued inconsistency, is helping Sefolosha keep a stranglehold on the starting 2-guard spot. But here’s a question. Are we witnessing a situation where Harden needs to be a starter to be effective, while Sefolosha can be just as effective coming off the bench?


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by Darnell Mayberry
Assist Editor/ NBA Coordinator
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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