Nuggets from my notebook in Monday’s win over New Orleans.
- Kevin Durant desperately needed something good to happen to him. Anything. Little did we know, that something would come on the defensive end. Durant’s D on David West in the final six minutes won the Thunder this game. The Hornets were playing through West and were going to ride him to victory. But when Durant switched onto him, he used his length to better contest West’s shots and throw off his rhythm.
- Durant helped force three straight stops against the Hornets inside those final six minutes. He had two blocks, one on West and one on an Emeka Okafor dunk attempt, and one great contest on West.
- It’s likely that Thunder heads everywhere want to see Durant play similar D throughout the gtame. But that isn’t likely to happen. Not anytime soon at least. It takes too much focus, too much energy, too much effort. Durant isn’t ready to do that while sustaining his offensive exploits. The best thing about it is the Thunder has pieces around Durant that allow him to be able to focus more on offense. For now, the most you can ask out of Durant defensively is a more consistent effort.
- Russell Westbrook: 12 points, two assists, two steals and one rebound in the fourth quarter. Said Durant: “The last three games he’s been doing that. Me and Jeff’s shots haven’t been falling at all. I pulled him to the side and said, ‘I’m just going to do what I do on defense and if you see an opening, just go.’ He did a great job of that.”
- And this quote from KD deserves its own bullet. “That’s the new Russell, man. He’s just taking over games and controlling games. That’s what we need for us to win.”
- So, too, does this one from New Orleans coach Monty Williams on Westbrook: “He is an All-Star. He plays at a level that causes teams to scout him 10-15 minutes during a practice.”
- It’s become easy to gush over Westbrook stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis and base his development on that alone. But it was something so small and simple that he did tonight that sent the loudest message about his maturity. It happened with 7:26 remaining in the fourth quarter. Westbrook stole a pass from Willie Green and had an easy layup opportunity in transition. But Westbrook slowed up and passed to Durant. Westbrook knew KD needed it. Durant had scored 19 points on 6-for-19 shooting prior to that point. “I just tried to get Kevin an easy shot,” Westbrook explained. “I definitely could have laid it up. I was just trying to get him going. We were going to need him to finish out the game.”
- Something you might not have seen at home but I refuse to let go unmentioned here is the leadership role that Thabo Sefolosha took on late in this one. As the Thunder came out of a timeout with 5:50 left to play, Sefolosha pulled his four teammates into a huddle near the scorer’s table, said a few words and tapped them on their chests. Sefolosha’s message? Essentially, that it’s winning time. Sefolosha told his teammates that they were playing timidly and that the final minutes of games is when things have gotten away from OKC in the past. Sefolosha wanted his teammates to have each others backs and close it out strong. “Everybody can be a leader on this team, and Thabo was at that moment,” Durant said. “And that gave us a big push.”
- Sefolosha tied his season-high tonight with 13 points, a total he’s netted two other times this season. Sefolsoha is now averaging 9.8 points in his past nine games. Not bad for a guy whose career average is 5.6 points. And it’s really helped the Thunder’s offense. Sefolosh made two 3s tonight, and, lately, when things have broken down it’s surprisingly been Sefolosha who has made something happen by slashing hard to the basket for a bucket. “It’s always good when you’re making shots,” Sefolosha said. “I know it helps them. And it definitely helps my confidence. The basket gets a little bigger and you take shots that sometimes you pass on. I’ve been working hard and I know it’s going to pay off.”
- A lot of love was given to Jeff Green after the game for his chase-down block on Chris Paul with 4:17 left in the third quarter. ” I think that changed the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Said Durant: “That gave us a big lift. That was an unbelievable play by Jeff…That gave us a lot of momentum. The crowd got into it and that kind of put us on our run. So that was probably the biggest play of the game.”
- Not taking anything away from Green. That was a great hustle play. It was one that, with the Thunder trailing 61-57 and looking pathetic to that point, seemed like it would indeed change the game. But here’s what my score sheet read immediately after. West jumper: Hornets, 63-57. Westbrook missed jumper. West runner plus the foul (miss): Hornets 65-57. Great play? No doubt. Game-changer? Hardly.
- After some guys claiming to be the Oklahoma City Thunder shot just 15 of 23 from the foul line Sunday at Houston, the real Thunder showed up at the stripe tonight and connected on 26 of 29, included 16 of 17 in the fourth quarter. That put the game away. And it helped that OKC made more than the Hornets even attempted (17).
- The 56-36 rebounding advantage the Thunder enjoyed was a big factor. Durant tied a season-high with 11, which he’s done three times now this season.
- James Harden had two really nice drives into the lane in the first half tonight. On the first, he finished a gorgeous acrobatic layup. And on the second, he found Nick Collison for a dunk that led to a three-point play. It was the type of plays we saw Harden excel at last year but struggle so much with this season. And let’s not forget the alley-oop Harden finished from Russell Westbrook. If the Thunder doesn’t do anything else right offensively, they’ll connect on those backdoor lob plays. They’ve got those down to a science now.
- Paul has developed a reputation throughout the league as a bit of a punk. No one is willing to say it, but that’s the general consensus among select media members and team personnel. Let me say this. I’ll take Chris Paul and his “punk-ness” on my team any day of the week. The guy is a winner. (I know. He lost tonight. Right.) Does he flop at times? Sure. Can he be a bit of a whiner? No doubt. But he gives it all he has. You saw it with 2:14 left in the first quarter when he dove on the floor for a loose ball he had no business even having a chance to get but salvaging a Hornets possession when he secured the ball and called timeout. And you saw it when he dove into the stands for another loose ball and darn near broke his neck when he slipped on a stack of towels. Give me that any day.
- Nenad Krstic returned to the lineup after a two-game absence caused by back spasms. The stat sheet says he scored three points and pulled down seven rebounds in just under 17 minutes. Can’t say that I even knew he was on the court after the jump ball.
- Thunder finishes 12-6 through November. I had them at 13-5 on the way to 57 wins. That loss to Houston on Sunday hurt me. Yeah, I’m tracking. I still think 57 is doable, even though it’s almost unbelievable that such an inconsistent team has managed to get through such a tough start with a 12-6 mark. Maybe the Thunder has been lucky. Or maybe the boys are better than we think. Maybe they simply know how to win games now and we’re just not giving them enough credit because they haven’t been pretty enough for our liking.