Thunder 104, Knicks 92
Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday’s win over New York.
- As I walked into the arena, I saw a fan wearing an alternate orange Latrell Sprewell Knicks jersey. But get this. He was on his way inside with a buddy wearing a Bulls hat. How on earth does that make sense?
- Russell Westbrook sent a scare through the entire state when he rolled his left ankle midway through the first period. He left the game but checked back in 22 seconds later and finished with a solid 21, 8, 8 and 3.
- Reggie Jackson also had fans holding their breath for a moment. The rookie limped off the court and into the locker room with less than two minutes remaining. His injury is being listed as a right knee contusion. I asked him after the game if he was OK and he said he was and should be good to go for Monday’s game.
- This was a blowout.
- Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden combined to outscore the entire Knicks team 53-47 by halftime. I honestly don’t know what’s more impressive, the Thunder’s trio scoring 53 and outscoring the entire Knicks squad, or OKC posting 70 in the first half.
- Once again, Harden, Westbrook and KD combined for at least 70 percent of the team’s scoring. Tonight, the trio netted 70.2 percent of the Thunder’s 104 points. At Minnesota on Dec. 26, that threesome had 74 percent of the scoring output.
- Carmelo Anthony missed this one with that ankle sprain he sustained Thursday at Memphis. It’s a shame we missed the only chance this season to see KD and Melo lock horns.
- Give the Thunder credit for showing some maturity tonight. I wrote about just that for Sunday’s paper. OKC pounced on a team missing its best player and turned a trap game of coming back home after a road trip into a breeze. Also, Westbrook bounced back from a brutal 0-for-5 start and didn’t lose his head like we’ve seen in the past. These are all steps growing young teams take toward being elite. Last year, we saw the Thunder begin learning how to take care of business in back-to-backs and bounce-back games following losses. Now, the team is showing tough-mindedness in both rough stretches of the schedule and breaks that bring other teams to town banged up.
- After missing his first five shots, Westbrook made six of his next (and final) seven.
- I could have sworn I saw Trina tonight walking out with Harden’s folks. It could very well have been that I just wanted to see Trina.
- With OKC leading by as many as 31 on the night and 27 going into the fourth quarter, no Thunder starter needed to play a single second in the final frame. It was the fourth time this season that the first five could sit the entire final 12 minutes. It also happened against Houston, Phoenix and San Antonio.
- When KD and Russ subbed out for the final time, the Thunder was ahead 89-59 with 2:51 remaining in the third.
- The next time one of you Thunder heads goes jonesing for some big name player, do yourself a favor and watch the Knicks. Then watch the Thunder and be thankful for what you have. New York has just thrown together a collection of players and is now hoping for the best. The pieces really don’t fit and there really is no rhyme or reason to much of anything that they do. Is that really what you want?
- I chatted with two Knicks writers, prominent, longtime scribes at that, who both raved about the Thunder after the game. One said he is seriously considering booking a block of dates in June at his preferred hotel…as in he’s already penciling the Thunder in for the NBA Finals. Listening to the two admire the Thunder got me thinking back to two seasons ago. Writers did the same then. Only back then they were in love with the talent. Now, they almost swear by this same collection of talent having what it takes to make it to the postseason’s final round.
- Thunder players need to ease up on Jackson. He’s a rookie. He’s learning. And he’s had only two practices. But in what seems to be developing into a more glaring trend, teammates are barking at the rook and shouting one set of instruction after another to him. Players will say it’s all positive, and I have no doubt it will help in the long run. But there’s got to be a concern about the manner in which they seem to be riding him about every little thing. That can’t be good for his confidence. I suppose that’s the difference between a rookie who steps onto a 20-win team and a 55-win championship contender. Because no one ever seemed to be that hard on Westbrook, at least not publicly.
- New York coach Mike D’Antoni looked like a dead man walking. There was one possession in the first half when D’Antoni stood on the sideline all the way near halfcourt and deplored his team to dig in and “get up in them” and get a stop. Harden then split two defenders and scored with relative ease on an uncontested layup. I have no way of knowing whether Knicks players have tuned out D’Antoni. But that sequence didn’t exactly evoke belief in D’Antoni.
- Got to get something off my chest here. I only thought of it tonight because of an unpleasant stretch the Thunder had in the fourth quarter. Cole Aldrich stepped to the free throw line with 2:24 remaining and looked to end a scoring drought that was creeping toward four minutes. He missed the first foul shot. The crowd, already antsy after watching the Knicks’ 18-7 run, began to shower Aldrich with supportive applause. Aldrich then swished the second shot to give the Thunder a 100-83 advantage. What was left of the crowd sort of went nuts. Relief! It was an incredibly ironic moment. Because, and here’s the point, most fans around the league go ga-ga when their teams reach the century mark because it’s the moment they get free chalupas or whatever it might be. Tonight, the Thunder faithful just happened to erupt because Aldrich’s shot ended a near four-minute scoring drought. Hello???? When is OKC going to get with it and get some free taco action popping off? This is year four already!
- I’m sorry. I’ve got to elaborate on that last nugget. I told you this is on my chest. This is Oklahoma City, the fast food capital of the doggone country. There’s got to be some chain out there chomping at the bit to sponsor a promotion with the Thunder. There’s a Taco Bell on every block in this town. And the Thunder could even localize it. Again, hello??? Sonic is headquartered here. Have a tot giveaway, or a coupon for a free Cherry Limeade. Something.
- OK, back to basketball. I’m worried about Serge Ibaka. His inconsistency is troubling. More and more he’ll have a game like tonight where he blocks three shots and it seems like he had a nice contribution. But, really, he’s become a liability defensively. His man, generally, starts the game with a couple of baskets. And Ibaka is not rebounding nearly as well as he did last year. Meanwhile, Ibaka’s offense, which was expected to be even better this season, is erratic at best and non-existent at worst. It has the look of Jeff Green all over again. If it weren’t for the ultra steady Nick Collison waiting in reserve, Ibaka’s lack of impact would be much more disturbing.
- Ibaka did, however, help the Thunder set a season high for blocked shots in back-to-back games. OKC had 11 tonight after rejecting 10 shots at New Orleans.
- One thing Ibaka seems to be getting pretty good at is getting in other guys’ faces. Ibaka and all around good guy Tyson Chandler exchanged words tonight, and I have no idea why. The two had to be separated but strangely weren’t called for double technicals. All that happened was a lot of talking and finger-pointing. Frankly, I still haven’t figured out if Ibaka’s bark is louder than his bite. But something tells me we’re inching closer to finding out. Just wait until these games get a little more intense as the stakes rise.
- Westbrook tied his season-high tally of eight assists by halftime. But one thing I didn’t like: the Thunder had 16 assists at halftime and finished with 18 for the game.
- Fourth time in 13 games that the Thunder finished with more assists than turnovers. OKC had 21 giveaways tonight. A part of that is excusable, as six turnovers came in the final frame. But even through three, the Thunder had just 17 assists against 15 turnovers.
- Maybe someone can help me out with these two. What happened to Landry Fields’ game, and who the heck is Josh Harrellson?
- That’s it. That was way too many words about a game that never really was competitive. I knew that was going to happen.
- Up next. At Boston on Monday in the second TNT game of the season. Surely you remember what happened in the first one, don’t you?
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