So much for the Thunder’s three games in three nights being some big test of endurance and mental toughness.
Not only did the Thunder become the first team this season to sweep its back-to-back-to-back set, but Oklahoma City also won by an average margin of 10 points. The Thunder led by as many as 27 on Friday against Houston and by as many as 25 on Sunday against San Antonio.
When the schedule was announced, it certainly appeared Oklahoma City got a favorable draw for its three in three. Two games were at home, and the lone road trip was a 90-minute flight to Houston. Then the Thunder pounced on injury-plagued Rockets and Spurs squads and turned the triple dip into a breeze.
In the end, the head-kickings prevented some potential headaches for Thunder coach Scott Brooks. With such large leads in two of the three games, Brooks didn’t have to worry about limiting playing time to keep his players fresh. He was able to sit his starters for the entire fourth quarter twice. And that rest resulted in a preseason-like distribution of minutes over the three-game stretch.
The Thunder’s starters averaged just 25.1 minutes in the three in three. Throw in sixth man James Harden and super sub Nick Collison and the total for the Thunder’s top seven players in minutes played rises by only 0.2 minutes.
Furthermore, no Thunder player averaged more than Kevin Durant’s 30.6 minutes. Russell Westbrook logged an even 30 a night. Here’s a look at the entire top seven’s game-by-game minutes and their three-game average.
Russell Westbrook: 25, 40, 25; 30.0
Thabo Sefolosha: 20, 17, 23; 20.0
Kevin Durant: 28, 35, 29; 30.6
Serge Ibaka: 22, 18, 22; 20.6
Kendrick Perkins: 25, 28, 20; 24.3
James Harden: 26, 31, 22; 26.3
Nick Collison: 24, 30, 22; 25.3
As you can see, only once did a player log more than 35 minutes. That came when Westbrook was both fantastic and essential in carrying the load at Houston when Durant and Harden did not have their rhythm in the first three quarters. More importantly, only four players logged at least 30 minutes — Westbrook (40), Durant (35), Harden (31) and Collison (30) all topping the 30-minute plateau in that middle game against the Rockets.
That’s the beauty of the Thunder taking care of business. Players should still be fresh as this sprintathon season stretches on. This was supposed to be one of the most grueling portions of the Thunder’s slate. But thanks to the last three workmanlike efforts, the Thunder’s biggest challenge as it plays its sixth and seventh games in a 10-day stretch on Tuesday and Wednesday at Memphis and New Orleans, respectively, should now be mental not physical.
And with the January schedule providing at least one day of rest in between each of the remaining eight games following the road tilt with New Orleans, the Thunder’s fresh legs could soon help build Oklahoma City some separation in the standings.