Thunder 101, Hornets 91
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win over New Orleans.
- Monty Williams was my pick to win Coach of the Year. Can I get a mulligan? Please!!!
- You knew this one would be somewhat competitive. If nothing else, Williams will get his team to play hard, which is why I thought the Hornets would be this year’s surprise team in the first place. Plus, New Orleans lost its last three games by a combined six points. The Hornets might have come in on an eight game losing streak, but these guys know how to compete and not go out without a fight.
- Serge Ibaka is coming around folks. This had to be his best game yet. And he just looks completely different now than he did in most of the first 10 games or so. His energy level has been great and he just looks more focused. Earlier in the season there were times where he didn’t even look interested in being out there. Now, Ibaka is rebounding with aggression and finding a way to be around the ball more on both ends. He started off excellent tonight on the glass and it led to some confidence on offense. Ibaka was an animal in the paint with putbacks and even looked good a time or two in the pick-and-pop with Russell Westbrook.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on Ibaka: “Serge was really good tonight, scoring around the basket, making his jump shot.”
- Brooks said at practice Tuesday that he has made it a point to get Ibaka more involved offensively. But Brooks credited Ibaka for his 10-point first quarter tonight rather than anything the coaching staff did. “He was aggressive,” Brooks said. “I wish I could take the credit, but I’m not…Give him the credit. He was putting himself in a position to score.”
- I asked Ibaka before the game why he doesn’t break out the Air Congo anymore. His response: “I’m getting old.”
- Ibaka’s man defense left more to be desired. It seemed like whoever his man was got a bucket any time he wanted in the first quarter. Ibaka bit on two pump fakes in the first half, too, one one Jason Smith and one on Jarrett Jack. We continue to wait on the discipline to kick in.
- The Hornets must be the kings of the circus shot. That or the kings of the bank shot. These guys had at least three circus shots in the first half, two by Emeka Okafor and one by Carl Landry. And when they weren’t putting in off-balanced, falling-down prayers, they were banking them in.
- This was not a pretty win. And not just because the game was a complete and utter bore. Offensively, things are really messy at times for the Thunder. By now we know that if the Thunder isn’t scoring in transition, it could be a really long night. Fortunately for the Thunder, some easy chances came tonight in transition and off Hornets turnovers. But there just seems to be tons of instability and indecisiveness on the offensive end of the floor.
- The most glaring problem tonight in the halfcourt offense was that nobody seemed to realize that Kevin Durant was having a great game. Go back and watch the first four minutes of the third quarter to get a complete understanding of how oblivious to that fact OKC appeared tonight. Durant was 6-for-6 from the field in the first half, yet when the offense struggled in the first four minutes of the third KD could barely get a touch. This is when Thunder players should be glad KD is not Kobe, because Durant had every right to snap. But of course KD kept his cool. He patiently watched Westbrook miss three shots, Ibaka miss a jumper and Thabo Sefolosha misfire on a 3.
- Turnovers are the other big problem. The Thunder had 21 of them tonight. Six players had two or more. New Orleans scored 21 points off those giveaways, and if the Hornets were any good the Thunder might have lost this game.
- After tonight, the Thunder is now averaging 18.3 assists and 16.6 turnovers.
- Nights like tonight are when you wish Westbrook had a filter. It just wasn’t his night. He was off and he had no clue how to turn it on. But he kept forcing the issue and, in the process, shutting out his teammates with one ill-advised attack after another. Russ has been great lately, and it wouldn’t be fair to make a big deal out of this one performance. But this game is a prime example of the instincts that he lacks and is still looking to learn. The better option for him clearly would have been to defer and instead of continuing to try to be deadly with his own offense.
- It’s possible Daequan Cook saved this game for the Thunder. His 3-pointer with 10:42 left to play extended the Thunder’s lead back to six after the Hornets peeled off a 10-2 run that started late in the third period. That shot was a back-breaker. Without that shot, New Orleans grows more confident that it can steal one on the road.
- As much as Westbrook struggled tonight, you have to be impressed with the back-to-back shots he made immediately after checking back in with 9:07 remaining. The Hornets got within two on two occasions and Westbrook bumped the lead back to four both times.
- The Hornets started 1-of-9 and it looked like the Pistons game all over again. Then New Orleans made its next six shots.
- There was some very interesting dialogue just before the end of the first quarter horn between Durant, Brooks and Reggie Jackson. As the Hornets attempted a free throw, Brooks called in a play to Jackson. The rookie then attempted to relay that play to Durant. But KD quickly came off the free throw line and tried to waive off Brooks. He had another idea in mind. When the Thunder got the ball, Jackson ended up getting a wide open wing jumper at the buzzer off a feed from KD. I asked KD about that sequence after the game. “I told coach we didn’t want to run the play that we ran to get Reggie an open shot. He kind of (overrode) what I wanted to do, but it worked. We always talk about stuff like that and bounce ideas off each other. He called a better play than I did.”
- Durant’s hustle tonight might have been the best it’s been all season impressive tonight. He blocked three shots, came up with two steals, dove on the floor for loose balls and never gave up on plays. “I felt the energy was down,” Durant said. “That’s something that we don’t normally have around here, so I just tried to make some plays and be an all-around player.”
- I thought Jackson played well in his 12 minutes. He didn’t do anything that was overly impressive, but he looked much more comfortable and appears to be settling into his role with the second unit. I’ve noted that in the last few games he hasn’t looked like his customary confident self. Tonight, it was back.
- A small segment of fans seated directly behind the Thunder’s bench appreciated Jackson’s impact, too. They gave him a nice round of applause when he checked out of the game with 7:31 left in the second period.
- I’ve said this since dude came into the league, but I just can’t get over how much Al-Farouq Aminu looks like Dwight Howard’s baby brother.
- The streak is over! The streak is over! The Thunder held a team to less than 10 offensive rebounds. Prior to tonight, OKC had allowed at least 10 offensive boards in every game this season.
- I don’t think I’ve ever said this. But I love the cross-court skip pass. I absolutely love it. It’s dangerous but it’s deadly. I remember being taught in high school that that pass was one of the worst you could make. But the Thunder makes it look nice. Guess, that’s why they’re pros.
- There was a halftime show that I had never seen before. It was a male and female duo that called themselves “Bounce.” I felt like booing them off the court when they came out. Midway through, I actually warmed up to them. By the time they jumped rope while simultaneously bouncing balls on their heads, they had earned my respect.
- The Thunder finished with 19 fast break points. OKC had 15 through three quarters. Against the Pistons, the Thunder had 15 at the end of the first quarter.
- New Orleans went 20 of 21 from the foul line. Jack and Carl Landry combined to go 18-for-18.
- Landry takes FOREVER on his foul shots. I timed him twice tonight. The first time, he clocked in at 9.9 seconds. And that was not an accurate time because I fumbled with my phone for a second while trying to reset the stopwatch. The second time I clocked him, he came in at 10.2 seconds.
- Up next. At Golden State on Friday.
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