Thunder 111, Jazz 85
Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday’s win over Utah.
- Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka did a great job early of defending Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. They contested extremely well without fouling and forced them into some difficult looks. And this time, for the most part, they finished possessions with rebounds. Thanks in large part to Perk and Ibaka, Jefferson and Millsap got off to an 0-for-7 start and never really found a rhythm. The defense by that duo set the tone, and the Thunder fed off of it the rest of the way to cruise to victory.
- Jefferson finished with 15 points, going 7-for-19 from the field. Millsap had 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting. They combined for just 13 rebounds. How impressive is that? Those two entered the night as Utah’s leading scorers, averaging a combined 35 points with 18.7 rebounds. Both were shooting at least 47.5 percent coming into tonight.
- The Thunder’s defense as a whole at the start of the game was excellent. Utah missed a few good looks, but the Thunder hounded the Jazz into missing 15 of their first 16 shots. Utah’s second field goal didn’t come until Jefferson scored on a putback with 4:50 remaining in the opening quarter.
- The first quarter was the key. The Thunder held the Jazz to 19 points on 30.8 percent shooting. It was the first time in 11 games that OKC has held an opponent to 20 points or less in the opening period. In the previous 10 games prior to Tuesday, the Thunder had allowed an average of 28.4 points and had yielded at least 30 points five times.
- Said Kevin Durant: “The last few games, we had some lapses and we didn’t play as well as we wanted to. We may have gotten some wins, but we kind of squeaked those out. But tonight was Thunder basketball; defense first, hustling, rebounding, helping each other out on the defensive end and playing together. I think we got some fast-break points as well. So we got back to our brand of basketball, and it feels good to be back.”
- The Thunder is 6-2 when it holds opponents to 20 points or less in the first quarter. In those six victories, the Thunder has won by an average margin of 10.4 points.
- This was the largest margin of victory for the Thunder this season. The previous high was 20 points, set in a 99-79 win over Detroit on Jan. 23. And guess what? The Thunder held the Pistons to 12 first-quarter points in that ballgame.
- For a while, though, the Thunder didn’t take advantage of Utah’s poor shooting like it should have. With eight minutes left in the second quarter, for example, the Thunder led 31-28 despite Utah shooting just 11-for-35. The problem? What else? The Thunder allowed the Jazz to take 11 more shots thanks to turnovers (six) and giving up offensive rebounds (six leading to eight second-chance points).
- Russell Westbrook played with great pace tonight. He pushed the tempo when needed but also scaled back and tried to get others involved, too. He scored 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and two assists. With a fast break dunk at the 2:53 mark of the second quarter, Westbrook joined Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players in NBA history to record at least 5,000 points, 1,900 assists and 1,300 rebounds in their first 274 games.
- Said Durant of the milestone: “That’s a big-time feat. To be up there with the greats of the game is an honor. I’m sure he’s very excited. I’m happy for him. He’s done so much in this league and he has a lot to go. I’m glad I’m playing with him.”
- Uh, that dunk that put Westbrook in such elite company? It came off a break led by Perk. Westbrook flushed it off an alley from the big man. That’s the second time that I can remember where Perk led the break and threw a lob-pass. He also did it in game No. 2 at Minnesota. “He’s done that a few times, and we score,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Surprisingly, at times. But Perk, he plays hard. I don’t mind him doing that occasionally. But we can’t see a daily diet of that.”
- I asked Brooks if he’d consider moving Russ to the 2 and starting Perk at point. Brooks could only laugh. “Perk was nice, huh,” Brooks said.
- What I liked even more than the lob pass by Perk was his ho-hum reaction. He just trotted back on D like, ‘That’s what I do.’ But he let his emotions show on the ensuing possession after he allowed Jefferson to catch an entry pass over the top and score a point-blank layup. Perk banged the ball against his head and, I’m assuming, cussed himself out under his breath. Not trying to make too much out of it. But not too many players show that amount of passion on the defensive end rather than the offensive side. It’s small. But it’s a small something that always should be considered when evaluating what Perk brings to this team.
- Perk was a a passing machine tonight. He had another nice dime that came on a behind-the-back dish to Ibaka with 9:55 left in the third. For the game, Perk tied his career high with six assists. For all those who get frustrated with the Thunder throwing the ball into Perk on the low block, Brooks gave a pretty sound explanation for why he continues to allow it. “I’m doing a better job of letting him touch the ball more,” Brooks said. “Earlier in the season, he was facilitating our offense at times, whether it was at the low post and passing out or at the elbow. I thought we needed to go back to that, because when you have guys that touch the ball they feel better about themselves and they just play better basketball.”
- This is hard to ignore. The Thunder’s defensive-minded center had four more assists tonight than its All-Star point guard. A lot of Westbrook detractors could and perhaps would make a big deal about that. In no way am I trying to here. But in no way do I think that’s a good thing. One more? Fine. Two more, even? OK. But four more? C’mon man! If this was one isolated game, that would be one thing. (No, Perk hasn’t tallied more assists than Westbrook before.) But we all know Westbrook’s passing game hasn’t been at the level it was last season. This was his 10th game with four assists or fewer, tonight’s tally being a season-low. I’m all for having a shoot-first point guard. But I like my point guards a whole lot more when they get everyone else involved and make others better. I’m not sure anyone can make a case that Westbrook is doing that right now.
- In fairness to Westbrook, his teammates blow some of his passes. Westbrook fed Ibaka with a beautiful bounce pass in the first quarter. It was a little low, but Ibaka was wide open under the rim and all he had to do was scoop it and dunk. But of course, it trickled out of bounds. Sometimes this season, it’s been plays like that that have kept Westbrook’s assists numbers down.
- Who would have thought Perk would have twice as many assists as Durant and Westbrook combined? KD had one.
- After Ibaka muffed that pass, Westbrook chewed him out. And rightfully so. Still, I didn’t like it. We all know Westbrook’s temper and body language need work. But when you’re on your way to leading the league in turnovers for the third time in four seasons, it seems to me you should be careful how you react to a guy who couldn’t catch a pass. Again, Westbrook was right to get on Ibaka there. It just looked a little like Westbrook went overboard.
- I don’t know what’s gotten into Ibaka lately, but he needs to keep it up. The man had 16 points, 10 boards and six blocks tonight. I’ve already noted his defense. But his energy was once again great. And when he plays like that, the Thunder’s defense is really, really tough to score on.
- Said Brooks about Ibaka: “Serge was all over the floor, rebounding the ball, blocking shots. He’s getting better every game. His development is encouraging. Every day he works, and you can see the work that he puts in on the floor paying off for him.”
- Durant’s hustle was outstanding tonight, too. He ripped Josh Howard clean on one possession late in the first quarter and dove on the floor in front of his bench to recover the ball. He ended up saving it to Nazr Mohammed, who got it to Westbrook, who fired it to James Harden, who got fouled and marched to the line. The crowd went nuts, showing appreciation for the face of the franchise hustling like that and doing the dirty work.
- Gotta love Durant’s response when asked about diving on the floor. “I’m all about the win,” Durant said. “Because these guys will do it for me. I just want to try to do as much as I can to help out on the defensive end. That’s been my role, I think, this year is to provide a lot of defensive energy and be aggressive on the offensive end. So I’m just trying to make a conscious effort of playing hard and being a better defender and trying to be more of a two-way player.”
- I didn’t cover the game at Utah last Friday. If I did, I would have noted this then. But KD got beat on four backdoors and one break in which he didn’t get back on D. Tonight, I don’t remember a single lob play or backdoor play from the Jazz. Much better effort by KD and his mates. Said KD: “They’re a tough team to guard because they screen so well and they move so much. But I think we did a great job of helping each other out.”
- About midway through the first quarter, old friend Earl Watson tried to apply full-court pressure to Westbrook. After giving a few fakes like he was going to enter into a sprint, Westbrook finally turned on the jets and just blew right past Watson for a wide open layup. Watson didn’t try that again. I wondered how many times the Thunder saw that in practice three years ago.
- Perk absolutely LAID OUT Devin Harris on a screen with 3:33 left in the second quarter. I actually worried for Harris’ well-being. The pick freed up Westbrook for a pull-up jumper, and as the ball splashed through the net Perk gave a fist pump while Harris was slowly trying to figure out where he was. Classic Perk.
- Remember when Devin Harris was good at this game?
- The last time a player scored at least 20 points with at least 20 rebounds against Utah? Nov. 13, 2010. The guy who did it? Nazr Mohammed.
- Dead crowd tonight. What was up?
- Brooks cleared his bench with 5:11 left to play, inserting Cole Aldrich, Reggie Jackson and Lazar Hayward. Ryan Reid made his NBA debut when he checked in with 3:51 remaining.
- The crowd began filing out much earlier than that. I can’t blame the fans who took off.
- As a result of the most lopsided win of the year, every active player scored for the Thunder. Reid showed some nice footwork on one of his field goals that came from underneath the basket, and Cole continues to impress.
- Jackson recorded a career high with eight assists. He added four points, three rebounds and turned it over only once in 25 minutes. Not bad for a rookie backup who allegedly is the reason the Thunder can’t win it all this year, huh?
- Not everything was great tonight. The Thunder went 22-for-34 (64.7 percent) from the foul line and gave up 19 offensive rebounds leading to 22 second chance points.
- Just 15 turnovers. Can they please keep it about there?
- Up next. At Houston on Wednesday.
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