Five Thoughts From Tuesday’s Game
The Thunder is right back at it tonight at New Orleans in what will be its fifth back-to-back already this season. So there’s little time to gloat or groan about anything in any one game this season. But you can spot trends developing or continuing and those things are important to remember. With that said, here are five observations I had from Tuesday’s win at Memphis.
- The Thunder’s ball movement is incredibly erratic. It was a problem last year, and it was one of the main focal points coming into this season. But things haven’t gone according to plan. Tuesday’s game at Memphis was one of the worst showings this season. The Thunder had just 14 assists, two more than its season low, and finished with 15 turnovers. It was the third time this season that the Thunder finished with more turnovers than assists. In two other games, the Thunder had one more assist and two more assists, respectively, than turnovers. Re-watch the Grizzlies game (or perhaps just watch tonight’s in New Orleans) and you’ll see why the ball the Thunder has so many struggles. Far too many possessions are filled with just one or two passes. The Thunder settles too often for isolations or idleness by ball handlers while waiting on ball screens. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies, at times, put on a ball movement clinic, passing the ball three and four times before finding an open shot. They finished with only two more assists than the Thunder, which is not at all indicative of how much better Memphis moved the ball. But this game showed why the Thunder so far is averaging only 3.5 more assists than turnovers.
- Russell Westbrook was fantastic on offense. He shook off an 0-for-13 performance in his first game at Memphis to score 30 points on 12-for-20 shooting. Westbrook had his mid-range shot falling, was attacking and finishing at the rim and, most importantly, was under control for much of the night. He added six rebounds and four assists against two turnovers to complete what was by far his most dominant performance of the young season. It was a night that reminded us all of what Westbrook is capable of when his head is screwed on straight. Defensively, though, Westbrook still hasn’t hit his stride. He struggled to defend the pick-and-roll, and his ineffectiveness allowed Mike Conley to control the flow at the other end as Conley got to the basket at will and created open shot after open shot for his teammates. The good thing is Westbrook cut down on much of his gambling defensively.
- Nick Collison is an absolute joy to watch. You don’t have to be a basketball purists to appreciate how Collison just plays the right way. If you were playing pickup, you’d want Collison on your team every game. That’s because he’s the type that does all the things no one else wants to do, while also playing with selflessness that allows you to jack up as many shots as your out-of-shape self can handle. It’s nothing new, but Collison is standing out more and more by setting sensational screens that free up Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden, he’s rebounding with ferociousness, diving on the floor and taking charges. Now, Collison is turning heads with his passing. He had a season-high three assists against Memphis, becoming one of the few Thunder players who willingly made the extra pass, finding Harden and Reggie Jackson on the wing for open jumpers and Westbrook for a layup. I’ve said elsewhere that Serge Ibaka is a starter in name only now, much like Thabo Sefolosha. And that is partly due to Ibaka’s ineffectiveness but mostly due to Collison’s all-around effort and ability.
- The Thunder can close out games. We saw the makings of Oklahoma City’s killer instinct last season when the Thunder went 19-9 in games decided by five points or less. Already, the Thunder is building on last season’s success. Tuesday’s 100-95 win moved the Thunder to 5-0 in games decided by five points or less. It’s gotten to the point where we know Thunder games will be close in the end, but we’re also confident in OKC’s ability to pull it out. And it’s not like the 5-0 mark in games decided by five or less is a false figure. The Thunder didn’t blow big leads in any of those contests and have to hold on. All five were tightly contested games. The Thunder led by as many as 12 in two games, eight in two others and seven in another. Furthermore, four of those five games were road games, showing the Thunder’s toughness to pull out close victories on the road. Look for that to become a theme this season.
- Daequan Cook is slipping. Cook went 1-for-4 from 3-point range last night, and is now just 2-for-10 from deep in his past three games. After a blistering five games in December in which he made 12 of 21 3-pointers and averaged 7.6 points, Cook has made just 3-of-15 3-pointers in five January games and is averaging only 2.2 points this month. The turning point was that darned bug that knocked Cook out of the game at Dallas because of what the team called flu-like symptoms. Cook returned with goggles to reduce headaches and nausea and apparently could neither see nor shoot straight with them. Nevertheless, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has given Cook 19.8 minutes per game this month. Some of that has to do with two blowouts. But Cook needs to be careful because Lazar Hayward is waiting in the wings if Cook falls into a rut. But Cook has the ability to go on a tear at any moment. Besides, by now Brooks knows the threat of Cook’s sharp-shooting alone assists the Thunder’s offense. And, at times, Cook’s presence is a necessity if only to spread the floor and keep the defense honest. Still, keep an eye on Cook’s shooting.
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