Thunder Takes Down Denver, Advances To Round Two
Notes and observations from Wednesday’s series-clinching 100-97 Game 5 win over the Denver Nuggets.
- The Thunder won the series 4-1 against Denver to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals…I just thought I’d write that because it still seems sort of surreal. And it sounds pretty sweet.
- How fortunate is this city? Five years ago, nobody outside of Oklahoma City thought NBA basketball belonged in Oklahoma City. Yet here we are, getting ready for the second round of the NBA Playoffs. It all seems like a fairy tale when you really think about it.
- I can’t settle on which team I’d rather see next or which team would be best for the Thunder in the next round. Both the Spurs and the Grizzlies have their strengths and weaknesses. But you have to think playing the Grizzlies would be best for OKC. Against the Grizzlies, the Thunder would have the two best players in the series and home court advantage. But once you think about that wing tandem of Tony Allen and Shane Battier, and that low-post duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Memphis might not sound so good.
- Maybe this game will put to rest any and all talk of who the real Batman is on this team. I doubt it will, but it should. Kevin Durant was deadly tonight. He had 41 points on 14 of 27 shooting. He scored 16 in the fourth quarter. He had 14 of those 16 in the final 3 1/2 minutes. Said Denver guard J.R. Smith: “I think he’s hands down the best player in the league when he plays like that.”
- In a word, this performance by KD was scary. Scary because he’s still only 22. Scary because he made it look easy. Scary because you could see it coming and still no one could do anything about it. Scary because it made you think what’s next? What are we going to see when Durant gets stronger? When his body fills out? When he gets stronger with the ball? When he can get to his spot whenever he wants? When he can take over on a nightly basis like he did tonight? This was a scary good performance by KD because he’s only scratched the surface of his dominance and already he’s able to make you leave absolutely amazed.
- Durant averaged 32.4 points on 47.1 percent shooting in this series. And those kinds of numbers, that kind of production, is exactly what he needed. With every great performance, whether it comes in a closeout game in Oklahoma City or a World Championship in Turkey, Durant is becoming more confident. More sure of himself. More understanding of his ability to dominant any and every defender that steps in front of him. For all the talk about how an Allen/Battier tag team might bottle him up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Durant absolutely abuse both of them.
- For as great as Durant was tonight, the Thunder doesn’t win this game without Serge Ibaka. This guy had the best one-point game I’ve ever seen. I mean, nine blocks. In a playoff game! A closeout game! That’s unreal. Ibaka had three times as many blocks as the Nuggets. Three of them came in the fourth quarter. His last rejection was as beautiful as it gets, swatting Nene at the rim on a dunk attempt to preserve a one-point lead. It paved the way for Durant to hit the biggest shot of his career — that 19-footer over Nene that stretched the lead to three with 12 seconds left.
- After Ibaka’s performance, add this to my wish list of things I never want to hear out of basketball minds and enthusiasts again: blocked shots are overrated. That makes absolutely no sense to me and I’ve never understood it. Even if a defender blocks a shot out of bounds and possession stays with the offense, he’s making a team reset and attempt to score again against a set defense. I understand Bill Russell’s old philosophy of protecting the ball from going out of bounds or blocking it to a teammate. I agree that’s more effective. But nobody can tell me that denying a bucket is overrated. Not to mention the jolt it gives a team and a home crowd.
- The Thunder shot 36.6 percent and won the game. How? Hustle plays. There were a bunch of them. The Thunder took full advantage of 50-50 balls tonight, and those victories saved the day.
- It helped that the Thunder out-rebounded Denver 16-4 on the offensive end and got a 22-8 differential in second-chance points.
- Attempting (42) and making (34) exactly double the amount of foul shots as the Nuggets didn’t hurt either.
- All I can say about the over-and-back controversy is Durant said the ref told him if your momentum carries you into the backcourt, it’s not a violation.
- Tonight was a classic example of why you cannot try to rein in Russell Westbrook. It doesn’t work. His effectiveness comes from playing without a conscience. Love it or hate it. That’s who he is. That’s how he plays. It was clear that Westbrook came out and tried his best to play under control. And it took him right out of the game. His aggressiveness was seen only in spots. And as a result he was rarely a threat in applying pressure on the defense.
- Westbrook took half the shots he took in Monday’s Game 4, going from 30 to 15. But don’t misunderstand that reduction. Westbrook wasn’t trying to prove a point. Of this, I have no doubt. His first shot came 1 minute, 45 seconds into the game. He was fouled on the same type of pull-up jumper that he fell in love with in Game 4. Only he got two free throws. Tonight, Westbrook was trying to listen to his coaches, not stick it to his critics. But in the process, he looked unsure of himself even when he did pull the trigger. He never found a rhythm on his jump shots and missed way too many bunnies at the rim. For the first time in a long time, Westbrook was confused about when to shoot. It lead to over-passing and trying to force things to his teammates. And that’s precisely the price you pay when you mess around with his head.
- In the long run, I think tonight will be a good thing for Westbrook. Depending on if his ego can handle the truth, this game showed him he doesn’t have to be the man or even put up 20 for his team to win. Whether he wants to accept that truth is another story. And of course Durant isn’t going to go off every night like he did tonight. But maybe this will show Westbrook that when Batman’s got it going he should get him the ball.
- It’s awfully nice to have two players attempt more free throws than the other team. That’s what Westbrook and Durant did.
- Ibaka recorded two firsts in this game. His first assist and his first 3-point attempt of the series. The assist was actually a beauty. It came on an extra pass to Perk for a layup. Ibaka later got another assist to finish with two for the series, a 0.4 average.
- Nobody loves the halftime bowl-flipper-on-a-unicycle lady like our man Berry Tramel. I can guarantee you that. When I told Berry she was on the court, he began to squeal like a five-year old running to the ice cream truck. Then he cheered on press row (a no-no for media if it was during the game), giving her a hearty applause when she was introduced. At every flip of a bowl, Berry went crazier and crazier. It never gets old to him. This time, Berry’s moment of clarity of the degree of difficulty gave us this: “I can’t carry a bowl of cereal without spilling it.”
- Glad I finally saw Kendrick Perkins dunk. I was beginning to worry.
- Loved James Harden’s aggressiveness attacking the rim tonight. He forced the action in a good way and made something happen. And before his game-tying trey, he was 1-for-6 from the floor. That was a huge shot by Harden.
- Here’s something I want to see the Thunder include in the arena before all the renovations are complete: A hustle board. If you’re not familiar, a hustle board tracks blocks, rebounds and steals mostly. It adds up those three categories for each team and essentially gives you a score at the bottom. Tonight, the Thunder would have won the hustle board, 75-49.
- Another suggestion for the folks at Thunder headquarters: Get rid of the piped in “O-K-C” chant. It stunk. And it didn’t make sense. As a memo to the fans: manufactured noise is not good noise. If you want to really be the best fan base, generate your own noise without being prompted. That way the team’s game ops crew doesn’t have to come up with different chants like “Thunder up” and “O-K-C.” To the Thunder, less is more. The the fans, more is merrier. Gang up on me if you want, but I’ve been to every NBA arena and I’m only trying to help. Because people are starting to notice.
- Not sure why the Thunder went with navy blue Ts tonight. Not a good choice.
- I said after Game 1 that I didn’t think Nene had another 20-point game in him. He didn’t.
- Listening to Denver coach George Karl in the postgame press conference really put all this into its proper perspective. Here was a man who was battling for his life last year. One of those moments when it hits you that this is all just entertainment.
- There were 17 ties and 19 lead changes tonight. That’s one stat that illustrates how riveting this game was.
- Four of the five games between these teams were decided by a combined 13 points. That’s a stat that illustrates how close this series was.
- A limited number of tickets for round two go on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday. Better be early to get them while you can.
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