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Thunder 92, Sixers 88

by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 1, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win at Philadelphia.

  • This was a tough, tough win by the Thunder. And you figured it would have to be. The Sixers are an extremely good defensive team that likes to slow the game down, grind it out and make teams work for everything. And we all know the Thunder is not great in those types of contests. That’s what makes this such a nice win. This is the style of play we’ll see come playoff time. And for the Thunder to get out of here with a win to go along with some experience against this style was huge.
  • Once the Thunder clawed back from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and pulled to 85-all with 3:20 remaining, you sort of knew things were going to go the Thunder’s way from there. OKC has just been too good at closing out games, even on the road. And even though the Sixers are a tough-minded bunch, the Thunder is the more experienced team. Sure enough, the Sixers were the team that struggled with the mistakes when it mattered most and the Thunder was the team that executed late, largely by benefiting from Philly’s miscues.
  • Before the Thunder tied it up with 3 1/2 minutes left, it was anybody’s guess as to how this one would end. And with the game in doubt, the Sixers’ game-night operations staff had to prepare for all scenarios. It ended up being a funny little sideshow to a pretty scintillating game. I tweeted about it, and someone urged me to include it in the Nuggets so here it goes…I tweeted two pictures in succession: this with 5 1/2 minutes left and this with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
  • The way the Thunder was able to pull this one out was with defense and rebounding. And it was one heck of an effort. Everyone chipped in, and the stops just kept coming. In the final two minutes, when it was tied at 85-all, Russell Westbrook kept a ball alive following a Kevin Durant miss. Then Serge Ibaka secured an offensive rebound and got fouled after another KD miss. That’s when OKC went up by two (its first lead since 55-53 with 8:59 left in the third). Then Kendrick Perkins cleaned the defensive glass and was fouled and made one of two foul shots. Ibaka intercepted a Lou Williams pass to Elton Brand. Durant and James Harden trapped Williams and forced another turnover. Perk closed out on Jodie Meeks and came up with a huge rejection on his 3-point try. And then Russell Westbrook just did what Russell Westbrook does…
  • There was not a bigger, more important, more fitting play than the final rebound Westbrook grabbed. He flew in from out of nowhere and snatched a missed free throw attempt by Durant out of the air in the middle of the lane. I guess nobody has ever told Westbrook he’s a guard, he’s only 6-3 and he doesn’t belong in the paint with the big boys. The guy is not only a phenomenal athlete, but he’s also a fearless player. That board, coupled with Westbrook’s ensuing two free throw makes, iced the game.
  • Said Westbrook of his final board: “People tend to relax on free throws, especially in a game like that. I just went to go get it and whoever was right there wasn’t ready.”
  • Said KD of Westbrook: “Russ had the biggest rebound of the game after my missed free throw.”
  • Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Westbrook: “The kid is an amazing athlete. He is dynamic. That last offensive rebound was huge. It was a big one. I don’t know where he came from. He just jumps over bigs and finds a way to snatch it out of the air.”
  • Said Sixers coach Doug Collins of Westbrook: “That guy is a little Pit Bull. You have to play all 24 seconds of the clock with him, and I didn’t think we did that. I thought we were lax at the end of clocks, and you can’t do that with him.”
  • Westbrook finished with a game- and seas0n-high 13 rebounds, including a game- and seas0n-high seven on the offensive end. Russ’ career high is 15 rebounds, set on Dec. 1, 2010 against New Jersey.
  • Led by Westbrook, the Thunder wrestled 19 offensive rebounds away from the Sixers. That ties a season-high. OKC also had 19 against Golden State on Jan. 27. For the game, the Thunder out-rebounded the Sixers 56-39.
  • Westbrook’s last rebound was great. It made the most impact, and it’s not even close. But his most impressive board? Well that came in the second quarter. Russ shot it from the left elbow, watched it miss and somehow was the first to it on the block…AT THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIM!
  • Ibaka pulled down five more offensive boards, continuing the trend he’s been on in the previous 17 games. By doing work on the glass, Ibaka scored another 10 points, his ninth double-digit scoring performance in the past 18 games.
  • All you Perk bashers better give it up to him, too. He had 11 boards and played some outstanding defense on Brand. Sure, Brand got a double-double with 10 and 10 exactly. But Perk forced him into some tough shots and made him shoot 14 times for those 10 points. Ever since Utah came to OKC on Feb. 14, Perk has been on a roll. Show the guy some love.
  • The way Westbrook started the game offensively was a thing of beauty, too. He was ultra-aggressive and got to the rim at will against fellow UCLA Bruin Jrue Holiday. In truth, neither could guard the other. But on this night, Westbrook won the battle and the war. Russ hit one pull-up jumper in the first half that maybe two other players on the planet could make — Ty Lawson and Derrick Rose, because those are the only two players I can think of that could go as fast as Westbrook was going, stop on a dime and rise for a rhythmic jumper.
  • Seven turnovers for Westbrook will be an eyesore from this game. But as far as I’m concerned he can average seven turnovers if he plays like he played tonight.
  • Westbrook didn’t seem to be in a good mood after the game. This is another one of those things where it could have been anything in the world bothering him. So I don’t want to assume in this space. But I wonder if the turnovers are starting to annoy him?
  • Speaking of turnovers. The Thunder had 17 tonight, leading to 17 Sixers points. And it didn’t take long for OKC to start throwing it all over Philadelphia. You knew All-Star Weekend was over and we were back in business when the Thunder turned it over on its first two possessions.
  • One more thing about the rebounding tonight. There was a tip-in by Thaddeus Young with 2:05 left in the first quarter that sort of epitomized the Thunder’s defensive rebounding struggles. Lou Williams hit Reggie Jackson with a mean jab step to the right and blew by him going left. That one move completely broke down the Thunder’s defense. Nick Collison (who returned from a three-game absence) was forced to leave Young and rotate over. Ideally, there is supposed to be help for the helper. But Harden was in bad position standing behind Young, and it allowed young to have an easy tip-in on Williams’ miss. If you get a chance to re-watch this game, study that play. It’s very telling.
  • With Collison back, I was surprised Brooks maintained his altered substitution pattern with Durant. Brooks subbed KD out at the 4:22 mark of the first quarter until 9:54 was left in the second quarter. I wondered how much that had to do with KD’s minutes in the All-Star Game on Sunday? Westbrook came out at his usual time.
  • I liked how Brooks could get back to inserting Collison and Harden together. The more those two are on the floor together the better. The downside to that is it means less minutes for Ibaka, unless Brooks consistently opts to play Collison and Ibaka together rather than some mix of Ibaka and Perk, Ibaka and Nazr Mohammed or Ibaka and KD. It’s mainly a matter of Perk’s minutes, and it doesn’t appear that Brooks wants to cut into those.
  • To everyone who keeps asking me about for a Thabo Sefolosha update, the guy’s foot is in a protective boot. It’ll be a while.
  • From very early on, it looked like Jackson would struggle defensively against Williams. And he did, starting with that sick jab step Williams hit him with. Just when I began to wonder how long the Thunder could stick with that matchup, Royal Ivey went over to RJ during a Thunder free throw and initiated the switch. On the very next possession, Ivey did a terrific job of denying Williams the ball. #thingsthatdon’tshowupinthestatsheet
  • Ivey also supplied two very big plays that did show up. I let Brooks take it from here. “He made two big plays that really sparked us,” Brooks said. “He hit a big 3 that we needed. And the play before that, Reggie made a nice finish at the basket and (Ivey) came and stole the outlet pass and made another bucket to cut it to four at 74-70. I thought those plays, and (Daequan Cook’s) 3, were huge because we were going nowhere and it was going there pretty fast. But he kept the scoreboard moving with those plays, and it gave us a chance, gave us hope going into the fourth.”
  • About that third quarter. The Thunder went 2-for-20 and scored just 10 points, a season-low for any quarter this year. What happened was the Sixers tightened up defensively, slowed the pace, clogged the paint and forced the Thunder to execute in the half court. And we saw the Thunder at its worse. There were possessions in which KD and Russ were the only two to touch the ball, some where the Thunder over-dribbled, some where OKC just missed shots and some that ended in turnovers. But the most disturbing thing was that it didn’t look like there was a plan of attack. Had this game been played in San Antonio, or Miami, or Chicago, that would have been the ballgame. So obviously there is work to be done. Because we all know the Thunder will be hard-pressed to get away with that in the playoffs against a high caliber team.
  • One more thing about that third quarter. It was the type of period that it’d be nice to see Brooks ditch his set substitution pattern. A very simple way to help the Thunder get out of an offensive rut like that is to insert Harden sooner. Instead, Brooks put him in at his usual 4 1/2 minute mark. By then, the Thunder was down four after the Sixers had gone on a 15-6 run. Harden couldn’t stop the bleeding when he did check in. But the first thing he did once on the court was create a wide open shot for Russ only to see Russ miss the wing 3. Harden then got to the rim but had his layup blocked by Brand. Both, however, were the types of plays Harden is capable of and the Thunder sorely needs when its offense goes stale.
  • Brooks on the third period: “I didn’t think we were moving the ball well enough. We were coming off of our screens (without) good force and energy. And then we got the ball and we dribbled it too much. That’s why we missed a lot of shots.”
  • Durant and Evan Turner get into it, and it ended up being the closest we’ve ever seen KD come to getting into a scrap. And I’ve got to say, KD looked pretty ’bout it for a skinny cat. It all started when it appeared Durant took exception to Turner flailing his arm backward during a rebound attempt. It looked as if it caught KD in the face. Durant then pushed Turner. At first, Turner looked as if KD was joking. Then they both turned real serious, real quick. They began barking at each other and had to be separated at halfcourt. A double technical was called and order was quickly restored.
  • Durant called Turner’s arm flail “unnecessary and said of him and Turner “two of the nicest guys in the league, man. Wasn’t nothing going to happen.”
  • Perk also got a tech tonight for a light push on a Sixers player (I think it was Brand) shortly after the whistle. Unofficially, it’s his 12th, which would put him one tech away from an automatic one-game suspension. It might be his 11th, though. Some fuzzy bookkeeping on the league’s official tech tracker log, coupled with some unclear information supplied by the team through the league, has led to all kinds of uncertainty.
  • Classy move by the Sixers during a second quarter timeout.The Sixers played a video tribute to former Sixer and current Thunder assistant Maurice Cheeks during a second quarter timeout. Cheeks tried to avoid the footage and the nearby cameraman by ducking into the huddle. Brooks, however, gave chase and pulled Cheeks out and the entire team began watching. The Wells Fargo Center crowd then gave Cheeks a standing ovation when he was shown on the big screen.
  • Up next. At Orlando on Thursday.

-DM-

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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