Thunder 115, Suns 104
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win over Phoenix.
- Sixteen minutes. That’s all the Thunder played tonight. Sixteen minutes of good basketball. The first 32 were crummy.
- This game was the epitome of the Thunder’s inconsistency. We’re watching a team that’s good enough to sleepwalk through the first 32 minutes of a game before showing up and getting serious. But everyone associated with this team knows that formula won’t work when it matters most, i.e. in the playoffs. That’s why Thunder coach Scott Brooks and players like Nick Collison and Royal Ivey and Kendrick Perkins are preaching consistency now.
- Ivey: “We got to be more consistent. In the first half, we weren’t that good in defending. We can’t just turn it off and on all the time. We got to come in thinking the first five minutes are very essential in the first quarter and the third quarter.”
- Ivey rescued the Thunder from what would have been a horrible home loss. When the Thunder went small midway through the third period and Brooks inserted Ivey with five minutes to go in the third, it completely changed the face of the game. Ivey’s defensive intensity was contagious and it sparked the turnaround. Said Brooks: “It’s amazing. He has 17 minutes, doesn’t score, doesn’t get an assist, doesn’t get a rebound but he had a big impact on the basketball game just with his toughness.”
- I called Ivey’s final numbers the best, worst stat line imaginable. And the great thing about Ivey is he doesn’t care. “It’s not about stats with me,” Ivey said. “Straight energy. I can affect the game without scoring. The shots didn’t go down. But I’m not worried about when my shots go down. When my shots go down, it’s extra. I’m worried about wins and losses and winning. If I can contribute in that kind of way, I’m happy.”
- What Ivey has done over the past three weeks has been amazing. The guy played a total of 27 minutes in the first 28 games of the season but has stepped right in and supplied stout defense and timely shots when called upon. “When you see a guy like that working, you have no choice but to do the same,” said Russell Westbrook. “If you’re not then everybody’s look at you like you’re crazy.”
- You know Ivey had to be pretty special to overshadow the night Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Serge Ibaka had. Russ, KD and Harden each had at least 30 points, and Ibaka was two points shy of a 20-point, 20-rebound game. Those are video game numbers. It’s every bit as impressive as the Nuggets game in which KD scored 51, Westbrook scored 40 and Ibaka had a triple-double with blocks. My mission on Thursday is to find out when the last time a team had three 30-point scorers and a 20-20 guy.
- Brooks wasn’t impressed with his quartet’s numbers. “You have to play both ends of the floor, and I don’t think that they played the defense that they needed to in the first half,” Brooks said. “It’s great that they played well. That’s their job is to play well. But their job is also to play defense in both halves.”
- Harden’s 30 points set a career-high. His previous high was 26 points, which he’s hit several times. It’s hard to believe it’s taken him this long to surpass that.
- Only five guys scored for the Thunder tonight. That’s beyond crazy in a 115 point night. Even more ridiculous is four of those players combined to score 109 of those points.
- There was no way the Thunder would lose this game after closing the third quarter on an 18-4 run. When that spurt turned a 16-point deficit into a four-point margin and put the Thunder in striking distance, you knew OKC was going to pull out the victory. The Thunder has been took good in the fourth quarter lately, and too good at closing out close games all season, to have wasted that effort. And sure enough, this one turned into a lopsided 11-point win.
- Brooks: “One of the things I will never say about our team is we’re never going to give up. We’re always going to keep clawing and figuring out ways to get ourselves back into the game.”
- Another dominant defensive fourth for the Thunder. OKC held Phoenix to 16 points on 3-for-17 shooting and turned over the Suns five times.
- It looked to me like the Thunder overlooked Phoenix a bit. Remember, on New Year’s Eve, the Thunder led this same Suns squad by as many as 24 points and never trailed. I bet you the Suns remembered that and wanted to make up for it. The Thunder probably remembered it, too, and thought it’d be another easy night. Didn’t happen that way.
- You can add this one to the list of games in which the shot attempt tally of Durant and Westbrook was an issue. At halftime, Westbrook had attempted 15 shots to KD’s six. Harden and Ibaka tied for the next highest amount of attempts with eight each. And each time Durant didn’t get the ball, you could see his shoulders slump and his head hang. He was getting frustrated and losing his focus more and more on each trip. Some of Durant’s lack of shots had to do with Grant Hill hounding him with some terrific defense. But there were also a few times when Durant didn’t get touches when he was open. And when he finally did get the ball, he rushed shots or forced the action, leading to poor decisions, bad shots and turnovers. It took him completely out of the game. Durant finished with six more shots than Westbrook, and no one will say anything about this game. But it’s nights like this that have much more of a negative effect on the team than any of the times when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant. The final box score just doesn’t show it.
- KD’s dagger from the left elbow with 1:01 remaining: cold-blooded. He had Hill draped all over him, Jared Dudley flying by and the shot clock winding down and he still drilled it. It was simply cold-blooded.
- Can’t forget about KD’s crossover on Hill that gave the Thunder a 91-90 lead, its first since 2-0. Filthy is how I would describe it. Just filthy.
- Ibaka started off rebounding well, grabbing four in the first quarter, and kept it up all game. He finished with a monster 20-rebound night, a career-high. He had nine offensive rebounds, which helped keep plays alive, and had nine total boards in the fourth. Said Durant: “It’s nothing new to me. I know he’s capable of doing it every night, and I know it’s just a matter of him doing it.”
- The Thunder was 4-for-17 on second-chance opportunities tonight. Imagine if OKC actually converted those second chances.
- Remember when seemingly everyone around here wanted Marcin Gortat in free agency? He looked pretty enticing tonight. He finished with a team- and career-high 28 points with 11 rebounds and three blocked shots. He made nine of 19 shots and gave the Thunder trouble with his athleticism. Finishing feeds from Steve Nash doesn’t hurt, and it probably explains a lot of his success this season. But after watching Ibaka drop a pinpoint pass from KD tonight, I think we all can appreciate seeing a big man catch the ball on the move like Gortat can.
- Nash is an absolute joy to watch. He makes the game look easy, and he makes the game easy for everyone he’s playing with. Run the floor and be in the right spot and Nash is going to get you a good shot. The guy is incredible, especially doing what he’s doing at his age.
- The Suns started the game with seven assists on their first seven field goals. At halftime, the Suns had 23 assists and the Thunder had 11. Nash had 13.
- Before everyone goes saying the Thunder needs a point guard like Nash, I want you to stop and realize that there are 1 1/2 other guys in the league like him. Chris Paul is one and Rajon Rondo is the half. Rondo isn’t the shooter Nash is so you’d have the set-up qualities but not the shot. Just keep that in mind the next time you complain about the type of point guard the Thunder has. These guys aren’t littered throughout the league.
- Westbrook did have 10 assists tonight, the third time this season he’s had at least 10 helpers. It was his fifth double-double.
- Nazr Mohammed got the backup center minutes tonight, all 4 1/2 minutes of them. We had to wait two games to see how Brooks would handle the reserve minutes and if Cole Aldrich had supplanted Naz in the rotation. Looks like he hasn’t.
- Notice how Brooks didn’t play Reggie Jackson against Nash? Can you blame him? Brooks switched up his rotation in the first and third quarters to leave Westbrook in against Nash. RJ did end up getting 2 minutes, 2 seconds against the future Hall of Famer from the 8:49 mark of the fourth to the 6:47 mark.
- Kate Upton was in the house tonight. Yeah, that Kate Upton.
- Trina also was in the building. Maybe there is something to her and Harden.
- Two early fouls on KD gave us our first meaningful glimpse of Lazar Hayward in weeks. He wore a protective mask as he continues to recover from an orbital floor fracture. In six minutes, he really didn’t do anything worth noting.
- Shannon Brown needs to stop shooting.
- You know the show Basketball Wives? Well, with Harden, Hill and Brown, you had three players who are dating or married to musicians. Harden with Trina, Hill with Tamia and Brown with Monica. And there was this with Nash and Nicki Minaj.
- Saving grace for the Thunder: Phoenix going 3-for-19 from 3-point range.
- By battling back from a 16-point hole, the Thunder recorded its largest come-from-behind win of the season. It was the largest comeback win since coming back from 19 down on Dec. 8, 2010 at Minnesota.
- Up next. Cleveland on Friday.
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