Thunder 114, Clippers 91
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win over the Clippers.
- The player of the game on this night goes to Russell Westbrook. His defense on Chris Paul set the tone from the start and shaped the complexion of the entire game. Westbrook was as locked in as we’ve ever seen him, giving second and third efforts on pick and rolls and refusing to get taken out of the play at any point throughout the night.
- Said Nick Collison of Westbrook’s D: “He was really focused and he was great for us. When he can control the point of the ball, we’re so much better defensively.”
- Westbrook said the Thunder’s embarrassing loss to the Clippers on Jan. 30 was his motivation for his inspired play. “We definitely (wanted) to come back after a loss last night and come back and get a little payback from what they did to us earlier in the season.”
- Not trying to be a Darnell downer by any means here. This was as good of a game as the Thunder has played in weeks. But this team needs to get to the point where it can come out with this type of effort without payback on the brain. We know the Thunder can get up for big-time players and big-time games. But what we have yet to see is OKC come out with that same focus consistently when game No. 48 of the season is just game No. 48. That’s an ultra important step in this team’s maturation.
- One last thing from me on Westbrook’s defense. Where is that effort every game? He showed tonight that he could, without a doubt, be the league’s best defensive point guard. But he’s been disappointing on that end pretty much all season, allowing opposing guards to have their way with him and, as a result, make things extremely tough on the entire team’s defense. I asked Westbrook how he can duplicate tonight’s effort on a nightly basis. “Easy,” he said. “Just come back and do it again.” Of course, I couldn’t let Westbrook get off that easy, because we all know that if it were that easy he would be doing it. And that certainly hasn’t been the case. (This is the part some of you might have caught on the post game broadcast. I didn’t know they were live.) “Oh, wait a minute, Darnell,” Westbrook said. “I’ve done it. (Tonight) was a good defensive game, but I wouldn’t say I haven’t done it all season. But I’m going to consistently try to do that.”
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on Westbrook’s D: “From a statistic point of view, Russell looks like he had just a very average game. But I thought this was one of his best all-around games. He was guarding one of the premier point guards in the league, a guy that can manipulate the pick-and-roll game as well as anybody. And he did a very good job with that. He controlled the team and he controlled the game on both ends of the floor.”
- Westbrook was so good tonight that he caused Paul to temporarily lose his mind. Normally, it’s other guards getting under Westbrook’s skin and forcing the Thunder’s point guard into bad shots, bad turnovers and bad decisions. But, surprisingly, it was Westbrook who got the better of Paul. The final minute and a half of the second quarter said it all. In that span, Paul had two turnovers and took two terrible shots, missing both. He was a wreck, even flying around on defense in desperation mode. The best part was that Westbrook maintained his composure throughout the entire stretch and continued to make solid plays, winning plays even. Big time performance by Westbrook.
- The Clippers had just two dunks tonight. Only one was off a lob pass. That was a direct result of the Thunder’s defense, which started with Westbrook’s ball pressure. By comparison, the Clippers had eight dunks in that Jan. 30 debacle.
- Now, about Derek Fisher.
- I’m on record of saying Fish will be a great addition. Now let me go on record of saying his defense gets a bad rap. At 37, he may not be what he once was, and he may struggle against lightening quick point guards. But I promise you he’s still an effective defender. He showed it tonight against Eric Bledsoe and, at times, even C.P. He’s going to hound opposing guards for these final 19 games and help much more than he hurts.
- I asked Fish about his critics saying he’s washed up defensively and he said it fuels him. “I use a number of different things as motivation,” Fisher started. “But in this league, defense is just about effort and a mentality and all five guys getting the job done. A lot of times I just laughed it off when there were statements made about me particularly not being able to guard the younger point guards or the quicker point guards. I guarantee you, you can look at a lot of stat sheets and see Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker or Chris Paul, they’ve scored a lot of points against everybody they’ve played against, not just me. It’s just a part of this league. You have to deal with critics and people that are going to say certain things. But I’ve always used that as just motivation to continue to work hard and just kind of prove myself by trying to make my team the best it can be. That’s worked pretty well for me.”
- Fish is wearing No. 37 because that’s how old he is. He cited it as another source of motivation he’s tapping into. “There are a number of reasons why this opportunity presented itself in terms of being able to join the Thunder,” Fisher said. “It seemed to be a negative thing for so long, especially this season. It seemed to be a negative thing that I was 37. So I just wanted to send a message that the Thunder organization and I see it as a positive. I’m a guy that can still help a team be successful and compete for a championship even at the age of 37. So I figured since everybody likes to throw my age around in negative conversations, I’ll just go ahead and put it out there and let everybody know from the beginning. I am 37, but I think I can do some great things to help this team.”
- Notice how much more balanced the Thunder was on offense in the first quarter tonight? Five players scored, not just two. That’s what was missing last night at Utah. KD & Russ combined for just 20 of the Thunder’s 33 points tonight as opposed to 23 of the first 25. When it’s five-on-five like that, and everybody gets involved, everything is so much easier. And, generally, the result is what you saw tonight.
- After spraining his knee in the fourth quarter Tuesday, guard Daequan Cook did not play tonight. And the injury will force him to miss two to three weeks. As a 3-point specialist, Cook needs to have his rhythm and timing. You can only hope that his extended absence won’t knock him off his rhythm.
- Tons of credit needs to go to Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins tonight. This, in my eyes, was by far the best game they’ve played in tandem all season. (It’s late. There’s probably an oversight in there.) But the first half was definitely the best they’ve played together. Ibaka did a masterful job on Blake Griffin, staying down on pump fakes and keeping him in front on drives. Ibaka made Blake take contested shots all night, and Perk provided great help when needed. And both big men did an amazing job of cleaning the glass and limiting the Clippers to one shot.
- Led by Perk and Ibaka, the Thunder out-rebounded the Clippers 49-31. OKC also limited L.A. to 22 paint points and just 36.7 percent shooting.
- Said Brooks: “It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve had 48 minutes of consistent defensive pressure on the basketball.”
- Collison deserves credit for the job he did on Griffin, too. In the end, this was the worse I’ve ever seen Blake play. He scored just seven points on 3-of-11 shooting in 35 minutes. He had just seven rebounds, three assists and no blocked shots while committing four fouls. I’m told this is just the second time in Griffin’s career that he has failed to score at least 10 points.
- The Clippers can shoot the basketball. My goodness. They could barely miss from 3 in the first quarter, making six of eight, before connecting on 12 of 26 for the game. Brooks, however, thought his team defended even those early 3s well. “They hit six, or maybe even seven, tough 3s to give them the first-quarter score that they had…Take away those 3s early in the game and we did a good job even guarding their 3s, and this is a very good 3-point shooting team,” Brooks said.
- With Cook out, Brooks opted to play Lazar Hayward as the second string swingman. Royal Ivey would have been the only other option so it’s not that shocking. But considering the way Ivey has played lately, it is a little surprising that Hayward got the nod.
- Hayward made the most of nine minutes, knocking down two timely 3-pointers and dishing one assist. Both of Hayward’s 3s came from the right corner, and after seeing those shots fall you could picture how the second unit will work once Cook returns. And it could be pretty darn good. Dare I say better than the unit we saw with Eric Maynor? Before you call me crazy, think about it. Fisher is a much better 3-point shooter than Maynor, although Maynor was making great strides in that department this season while Fish has struggled. And while Maynor is a much better playmaker, Harden had taken over so much of that responsibility that you’re really not missing much of Maynor’s creating. So, essentially, the bench unit will have added another perimeter shooting threat and adequate ball-handler and playmaker in Fish to go with two other shooters (Harden and Cook) and two good defensive bigs in Collison and Nazr Mohammed. I love the idea of it, and I can’t wait to see it.
- Here’s what else I love: the lineup Brooks used to close the game. On Monday, I had a big blog explaining why the Thunder should sign Fisher. Then my internet browser decided to close on its own and perform an update. I lost all of it and wasn’t about to do it again. But all that to say, one of my points was Fish’s versatility. He doesn’t always have to play the point. He can, and will, slide to the 2. That’s a huge plus. It helps him fit great with the first string as well as the bench unit. In that blog that disappeared into nothingness, I had pointed out that Brooks is likely to close out many games with Westbrook, Fish, James Harden, Kevin Durant and one of Collison, Perk or Ibaka. Tonight, it was Collison and I thought it was as good as I envisioned. Again. Can’t wait to see more of it.
- If you don’t know by know, the Thunder waived Ryan Reid to make room for Fish. Expect Reid to sign a deal with the 66ers and remain close to the organization. Also, expect him to be with the Thunder’s summer league team. He won’t stray far.
- It’s back to garbage time minutes for Reggie Jackson with Fish now in the picture. I would not expect him to be sent to Tulsa.
- You knew referee Tony Brothers was in the building when the jump ball couldn’t even get tossed in the air without a whistle being blown. Brothers ruled the initial jump ball illegal. And then he did it again on the second toss and awarded the ball to the Clippers. You’ll have to forgive me. I don’t even know what an illegal jump ball is. So I’m not going to sit up here and say it was a bad call. I have no idea. But I do know Brothers proceeded to make terrible call after terrible call the rest of the night. And after his performance in this one, I have officially moved on from identifying him as the ref who cost the Thunder a win at Utah to now knowing him as simply a bad ref.
- Perk got a little payback on Blake Griffin tonight. When Blake went up for a layup, Perk delivered a hard foul and finished it with a slap in Griffin’s face at the end of the play. The slap look inadvertent, but Perk wasn’t exactly apologizing for it either. It was clear that this time Perk was going to do anything and everything he could to not get, well, Perk’d again. That he did, and he got a technical foul for it, his 11th of the season, putting him two away from an automatic one-game suspension.
- The refs were tossing techs left and right tonight. In addition to Perk, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro got one. James Harden got one after a monster dunk (one of Brothers’ terrible calls), Westbrook got one and Thabo Sefolosha got one, too.
- Speaking of Sefolosha, I expect him to play 20 to 25 minutes against Minnesota on Friday. Brooks said after the Blazer game that he wanted to keep Sefolosha at 15 minutes for another game or two. Well, tonight was game 2. Sefolosha told me after the game that he feels great and is looking forward to more minutes. And by the looks of it, Sefolosha is ready. He’s been great in limited minutes since returning three games ago. Time to unleash the beast.
- Man, I wonder what on earth Harden and Kenyon Martin could have possibly had to talk about tonight.
- I don’t know if the 30-second standing ovation Thunder heads gave Fish when he checked in for the first time with 1:47 left in the first quarter was classy or just clueless. I’d like to call it the former. But I’m torn. Most fan bases reserve standing Os for special players who’ve done special things. Fish is a backup point guard who hasn’t done jack for OKC. In fact, he’s helped knock the Thunder out of the playoffs. But as we know, Thunder fans aren’t most fan bases, and that shocking standing ovation was just the latest example of why.
- Fish, in a word, on the ovation “humbling.” “It was definitely a humbling moment for this community to open their arms so quickly, right away, to the new guy,” Fish said. “It was special, and it really helped me to kind of settle in right away.”
- The Thunder is now 11-1 after a loss.
- Durant bounced back nicely from a brutal performance at Utah and finished with a game-high 32 points…and he’s an afterthought. I thought he lucked out when Caron Butler sat this one out. Butler can’t stop KD, but he can definitely slow him down.
- The Clippers played zone on and off for much of the night. It was a mixed bag in terms of how the Thunder attacked it. There was some good and some bad. But there were definitely positives tonight.
- The Thunder had 20 assists again tonight and is now 16-3 when it finishes with at least 20 helpers. The absolute best showing of ball movement resulted in Fisher’s first bucket. It started with Westbrook posting up. When the Clippers sent a double at Westbrook on the right block, he fired it out to KD on the right wing. KD immediately swung it to Harden on the left wing, and Harden fired it to Fisher in the left corner for an open 3. It was beautiful, the type of possession I’m always talking about teams like the Mavs and Spurs and Nuggets executing with regularity.
- Up next. Minnesota at home on Friday.
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