Thunder 101, Hornets 93
Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s win over New Orleans.
- James Harden missed this one with an ankle sprain. He rolled it in Sunday’s game. Nick Collison also was out because of a quad contusion. Without them, and considering it was the second night of a back-to-back that just happened to follow the game of the year, not even Thunder coach Scott Brooks had any idea of what would happen tonight.
- What happened was the Thunder came out and handled business the way it should have regardless of the injuries. OKC jumped on New Orleans early and never let up. The defensive effort was strong from the start and the Thunder played nice team ball offensively to make things easier.
- The Thunder outscored the Hornets 31-18 in the first period and dished out seven assists on 14 field goals. Eight players scored for the Thunder in the first 12 minutes. OKC also limited New Orleans to 5-for-20 shooting in the period and forced the Hornets into six turnovers.
- Said New Orleans coach Monty Williams: “That team just took it to us from the jump.”
- A lot of people lately have been down on Kendrick Perkins. But he was pretty darn good tonight. And I’m not even talking about his season-high tying 13 rebounds or his season-high six blocked shots. His defense on Chris Kaman is what was most outstanding. Go back and watch how well he crowded Kaman and made his looks difficult, especially early. It’s one of the things Perk is best at and something many don’t seem to appreciate. Kaman went 4-for-17 tonight. One of his field goals came against Cole Aldrich and another came on a tip-in. Kaman hit two shots on Perk, and both were pat-him -on-the-butt type contests that you just have to live with.
- Perk clearly came into tonight with an attitude. He left the locker room Sunday night appearing to be in a bit of a bad mood. It could have been anything so I don’t want to assume what the issue was. But obviously he didn’t play well against the Nuggets. So I think Perk made it a point to come out more determined tonight. I wasn’t the only one to notice. Said Kevin Durant: “You could tell he was a little upset with himself. If that was over last night, I don’t know. But he came out and played with that energy, rebounding the ball like a mad man, finishing under the basket and doing some good things for us. That’s what we need from Perk every night.”
- Because he was so fired up, Perk picked up a tech less than three minutes into the game. He got it for arguing a call with an official. And, again, you could tell his emotions were high because of how he got it. He was just trying to play tough defense and he didn’t want the ref bailing out Kaman. And even though he knows he has to slow down on the techs, Perk couldn’t hold his tongue. Unofficially, it was Perk’s 10th tech of the season. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a ruling on whether the one he got at Houston will be rescinded. If so, he’ll have nine. If not, he’s three shy of an automatic one-game suspension.
- Quietly, Perk has been fantastic in three of his last four games. He shut down Al Jefferson (relatively). He shut down Luis Scola (relatively). And tonight, shut down Kaman. In those three games, Jefferson, Scola and Kaman combined to score 42 points on 18-for-52 shooting. For you math geniuses, that translates to a three-game average of 14 points on 34.6 percent shooting.
- Russell Westbrook was great tonight. Again. He played under control for the most part and didn’t force things. There were a few bad passes but not nearly enough to make a big deal about, because he routinely made the extra pass as well and didn’t hurt the offense by jacking shots or settling. I was probably most impressed with Westbrook’s defensive effort. He was as locked in as I’ve seen him guarding the ball, especially in the high ball screen. He was aggressive, but he also trusted the system and cut out a lot of the gambling.
- Only a combined 62 points for KD and Russ tonight? Slackers.
- Speaking of, Serge Ibaka finished one point and seven boards shy of a second triple-double in as many nights (sarcasm). On a serious note, I thought he was great again, too. He finished with 13 rebounds to match Perk for game-high honors, and he was great cleaning up around the basket and protecting the paint. If he was a split second faster on about two or three goaltending calls, he would have had five or six blocks tonight, too.
- Brooks said he wasn’t concerned with his bench after it got outscored 58-17 last night. Well, tonight the Hornets’ reserves outscored the Thunder’s 45-18. Hornets guard Jarrett Jack equaled the Thunder’s entire bench unit. Obviously, a lot of you will say that margin is a little skewed because Harden and Collison weren’t in there. I’d respond with two things: 1) the bench was outscored by 41 with Harden and Collison one night earlier, and, 2) there is this part of the game they call defense. So what you’re missing your main bench weapon. How ’bout getting a stop?
- Nuggets coach George Karl had a great quote on KD. From the Twitter feed of Benjamin Hochman, Nuggets beat writer at the Denver Post: “I’ve never seen a guy who, when he shoots it, I’m calling timeout before the ball gets to the basket.”
- After tonight, Kaman, is officially what Brooks would call a “sorry defender.” He just got out of the way of KD instead of challenging a la Perk. When Kaman did challenge a dunk, Ibaka jammed all over him.
- Aldrich was once again active when he got the opportunity. He had four points, three boards two blocked shots and at least one floor burn in 19 minutes. More and more, it’s becoming clear that it’s time to play the kid. Brooks seems to know it, too. He addressed it tonight without even being asked. “Cole hasn’t played a lot. He’s done everything that we’ve asked for two years, but we’re on a nice roll and our four bigs are (a hard rotation) to crack. But he’s done a good job of coming in; I thought tonight’s minutes, early in the game, he was protecting (the rim), he was running, he was setting screens. Those are the things that we need him to do and he’s done them well.”
- Cole said he’s comfortable out there, too, in meaningful minutes. “I feel real comfortable,” he said. “I know what my job is and I just try my hardest to do a good job out there; rebound, set screens, make an easy bucket here or there, but just do the little things and bring a lot of energy to our team.”
- Aldrich tried to run point tonight. Let’s never try that again, mmkay, Cole. My man dribbled a few times and realized where he was at halfcourt and fired that thing like a hot potato — right into the first row.
- Shortly after I tweeted “You’re no Perk, Cole. Pass the ball on the break!!” Perk did the same exact thing, throwing it into the crowd while trying to lead the break. Said Aldrich: “I think we’ll stick with Russell. We all kind of saw our big guys trying to play point tonight.”
- Injuries forced Brooks to play Aldrich and Nazr Mohammed together tonight. Weird, weird pairing. I think I would have rather have seen Brooks go small or trot out the captain of the bandwagon I’m driving, Ryan Reid.
- Reggie Jackson pieced together another solid performance with six points and four assists. Four of those points and three of those assists came in the first half, largely before the game got out of hand. So that was encouraging. RJ was more aggressive offensively tonight, and you could see his potential as a scorer. The second half is when things slipped away, as the Hornets rallied back. I’m going to choose to look at his game with a glass-half-full perspective. He’s a rookie, and not many rookie point guards are going to take control of the game and steady the ship during a team’s run.
- Not a good night/month for Daequan Cook. All you need to know about the slump that he’s going through is that when he finally made a 3 in the early going, it didn’t count because he stepped out of bounds. Cook actually stepped out twice tonight on that sideline boundary. Kind of summed up his night. That and the 3-for-13 shooting which included a 1-for-9 effort from deep.
- Cook is now 20-for-29 (28.9 percent) from 3 in the month of February.
- And I love that Cook keeps shooting. Really, I do. Because every time it goes up I think it’s going in.
- I didn’t know referee Violet Palmer was still in the league. I thought she had taken a college job as head of officials for some conference or something. I haven’t seen her in a long time. If you don’t know her, just know she’s considered one of the worst refs in the league.
- Palmer wiped out a pretty sweet alley by Perk to Aldrich. But she also gave the Thunder the benefit of what should have been no doubt on a continuation call.
- When KD had a 3-point play in the first half to put the Thunder up by 22, Ibaka was playing soccer with the ball just before Durant went to the stripe.
- Royal Ivey literally made me say “Good D” out loud twice tonight. He is really underrated. Thought he played well on that end. He also made his first two 3s before missing his next four.
- The Thunder did an extremely cool thing at halftime by acknowledging the arena’s employees and guest relations staff workers. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I can’t really recall ever seeing it. Very nice touch, though. The OKC arena workers are so kind and courteous. They deserve it.
- Xavier Henry joined the club with Ekpe Udoh as an Oklahoma native who returns to absolutely no fanfare.
- I don’t really mind New Orleans’ Mardi Gras unis. They remind me of King Cake, and it doesn’t get more New Orleans than King Cake.
- Up next, Boston on Wednesday.
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