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Thunder 109, Sixers 85

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm •  Published: January 5, 2013

Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s win over Philadelphia.

  • There were two big takeaways from this one. The biggest being Russell Westbrook continuing to find his offensive rhythm. He scored a game-high 27 points on 10 of 17 shooting tonight and was wonderful picking and choosing his spots. His shot selection was magnificent and, unlike earlier this season, he finished plays in fine fashion.
  • That’s now four straight games that Westbrook has had a good to great shooting percentage. He could be turning the corner. If so, the turning point came at Houston on Dec. 29. That’s when Russ made 11 of 22 shots and scored 28 points. It was the first time he shot at least 50 percent since Dec. 4 and only the second time he had done so this season with at least 10 attempts.
  • In the past four games, Westbrook is averaging 26.3 points on 52.7 percent shooting. He’s made eight of 13 3-pointers (61.5 percent) over that same span.
  • In the first 28 games, Westbrook averaged 21.2 points on 39.9 percent shooting and connected on just 33.9 percent of his 3-point tries.
  • Westbrook wasn’t in the mood to talk about his recent surge after the game. He never really likes to talk about himself. But with things going so well for him offensively at the moment, he pulled his superstitious act tonight. Before I could even get a question out about his improving percentage, Westbrook began shaking his head. It was clear the topic of discussion was headed for a dead end. And in typical Westbrook fashion, he answered the question in as few words as possible. “I’ve just been trying to take my time,” he said. “That’s it.”
  • Westbrook was efficient tonight largely because he was great finishing at the rim, a place where he’s struggled throughout the year. Tonight, however, he made multiple drives down the lane and routinely finished with both hands. “Just being patient,” Westbrook explained. “The lane opened up for me and I was just concentrating on finishing.”
  • Credit forward Serge Ibaka with an assist for Westbrook’s game tonight. Ibaka said he talked to Westbrook before the game about being aggressive and not settling. “Everybody knows he can make pull-up shots,” Ibaka said. “So I wanted him to try to drive the basketball.”
  • If I’m not mistaken, only one of Westbrook’s 10 makes was a pull-up mid-range jumper. That was extremely encouraging. Though he attempted more than one, he was much more selective with his favorite shot. You might remember Kevin Durant saying recently Westbrook doesn’t always have to shoot that shot. He didn’t tonight, and the results were fantastic. It’d be great if Westbrook mixed it up even more going forward. It would be a great way for him to keep the defense guessing more than opposing defenders already are forced to do.
  • Durant on Westbrook: “He’s taking good shots and he’s getting everybody involved. That’s what’s making this car roll.”
  • Scott Brooks on Westbrook rising percentages: “Hopefully it is turning the corner. I know it’s definitely in the direction that we like it.”
  • Westbrook carried the offense when the Thunder needed him most. OKC started slow, scoring just 22 first-quarter points. Westbrook had 10 of them. The Thunder let the Sixers hang around and stay within four at the half. Westbrook scored 12 in the second quarter to help blow open the game. And, again, it was all within the flow of the offense. He didn’t force anything and he didn’t take any bad shots.
  • It’s hard to ever say anything bad about Westbrook’s effort. But he’s got to start getting back on defense after missed shots and turnovers. He does sometimes. Most times he does not. Tonight was one of those did not nights. For as great as he was on the offensive end, he left as much to be desired on defense. He had his moments. But mostly he didn’t bring it on that end in this one. Way too much gambling and way too much loafing back on D.
  • The second biggest takeaway tonight was the defense returned. The Thunder held the Sixers under 25 points in all four quarters and limited Philly to 40.5 percent shooting. It was a great bounce back performance after the Brooklyn debacle.
  • Durant on the defense: “We knew that we had to start the game off on the defensive end a lot better and we did that tonight. We know what type of team we are. We’re defense first and we score off of our defense. And when our shots aren’t falling we still have to stick with our defense. I think we did a really good job of doing that.”
  • Brooks on the D: “We were good for four quarters, which was important to us. Going into this game we wanted to establish that mind-set from the start…We wanted to have some activity on the basketball, and we wanted to make sure we had some toughness on the ball. And with our guys, I think they responded in a very good way of challenging themselves to not get beat off the dribble.”
  • Ibaka was fabulous from the start tonight and finished with his sixth double-double this season: 15 points and 10 rebounds. He rebounded, made hustle plays and just did the dirty work. That’s it. At no point tonight was he the focal point, which is extremely impressive. If doing the dirty work is all it takes for him to register a double-double, look out.
  • Ibaka had a game-high six offensive rebounds, a handful of them ending in putbacks of his own that helped the Thunder outscore Philly 13-4 in second-chance points. Ibaka’s rebounding is really standing out and starting to become another weapon for him and the team. Over the past 10 games Ibaka has averaged 10.9 rebounds, 3.8 coming on the offensive end. When people ask if Ibaka can average a double-double, numbers like that suggest there’s no doubt he will soon. His mid-range jumper is almost automatic, and now he’s mixing in major work on the glass and getting rebounds and easy putbacks. It’s only a matter of time.
  • Ibaka: “I work hard. I try to do the best I can. I’m getting better and better. I don’t want just to be like people used to know Serge Ibaka four years ago. Now it’s my fourth year in the NBA so I’m trying to get better at everything.”
  • Brooks on Ibaka’s rebounding: “He’s always been a pretty good defensive rebounder. But this year we’ve challenged him. And give him credit, he’s locking in on the offensive side of the rebounds. He has quickness, he has strength and he has the jumping ability to get offensive rebounds. But you just have to go every time, and I think now he’s going every time. Because if you go 10 times you might get one. But if you go zero times you’re going to get zero. But I think now he’s going every time and they’re adding up. He has the ability to be our best offensive rebounder along with his defensive rebounds.”
  • One key to Ibaka’s rebounding has been opposing teams playing small on the Thunder. You saw it against Dallas, when Ibaka pulled down eight offensive boards against the Mavs, and a similar outcome occurred tonight.
  • Durant on Ibaka: “Now we expect it from him. When he has a double-double it’s not like breaking news.”
  • Before getting into a few other things from tonight, it’s worth noting right now that you can’t ignore that the Sixers were playing the seventh of eight straight road games. Those guys had to be tired coming in here. Perhaps that partially explains how the Sixers got outscored 63-43 in the second half tonight.
  • Turnovers are creeping back up for the Thunder. In three of the past four games, the Thunder’s turnover count has been 22, 20 and 18. The glass half full person would say at least that fourth game was the season-low five turnover game.
  • This game was close throughout the first half largely because the Thunder couldn’t take care of the basketball. OKC had seven turnovers in the first quarter and 10 in the first half. And they came in almost every possible way: traveling, out of bounds violations, bad passes, illegal screens, you name it. “It just added up to some bad offense in the first half,” Brooks said.
  • I haven’t been a proponent of playing Jeremy Lamb. It’s because I don’t really think he’s ready for major minutes. But I think I’d like to see Brooks start giving Lamb those KD breather minutes. The KD breather minutes generally come with about two minutes left in the opening quarter. Durant sits. Thabo Sefolosha returns. Durant then returns to start the second quarter. I think those last two minutes of the opening quarter could be good for Lamb. If he’s playing well, Brooks could even give him a few additional minutes to start the second. Of course that would mean either Hasheem Thabeet or Nick Collison (so Thabeet) would have to sit and Durant would slide to the 4. Given what we know about how efficient this team is with one big on the floor, I don’t see that as a bad idea.
  • Kevin Martin had a horrible first half. He was well on his way to struggling for the third straight game. He missed shots, turned it over and wasn’t all there defensively. In the first half, K-Mart was 1-for-4 and had three turnovers. Most who saw this game will remember Martin stepping out of bounds three times. That’s right. Three times. But officially, he was charged with stepping out only once. The other two turnovers in the first half were traveling violations. I didn’t have a good angle at all so I didn’t see whether he stepped out or not.
  • Spencer Hawes missed an uncontested layup tonight. I’m sure he would have made it in Seattle.
  • Kendrick Perkins uncharacteristically took a ton of shots tonight. He had four at halftime, the same amount as K-Mart, and seven through three quarters, two more than K-Mart. Even more unexpected was how four of Perk’s first six shots come from 14 feet and beyond. But he was 2-for-4 on those shots so it was all good. Perk came into the game averaging just four shots. His season-high is nine.
  • The Thunder nearly made three times as many free throws as the Sixers attempted. The free throw discrepancy tonight was 27-8 in attempts and 21-6 in makes.
  • OKC’s 52 percent shooting tonight was its highest since Brooklyn on Dec. 4. In that game, the Thunder shot a season-high 60.6 percent.
  • Memo to the Thunder’s game night operations staff: bring back the soul train line with the Thunder Girls. Please. Thanks.
  • And while I’m on game night ops, where are my Olate Dogs? I. Want. My. Olate Dogs.
  • Westbrook bumped knees with a Sixers player early in the third quarter. He immediately began wincing and limping a tad bit. He later could be seen conversing with head trainer Joe Sharpe about something while grabbing at his right knee. Westbrook was smiling a bit while the two were talking, so the topic might not necessarily have been the knee. And unfortunately I have no idea if it was the same knee that Brooks said had been bothering Westbrook. We’ll keep an eye on it.
  • Ever since that gash above his right eye, Westbrook has left the arena wearing what we used to call Locs, the dark, dark black sunglasses. It’s hilarious to me for some reason. I wish he’d do just one post-game interview while wearing them. SportsCenter would eat it up. And the beauty of it is he wouldn’t even look like a rich, prima donna athlete because by now we all know how unpredictable Westbrook’s glasses game is.
  • Great showing by Thunder fans tonight given the Oklahoma Sooners were playing in the Cotton Bowl at the same time. I get that not everyone’s a Sooner fan. Still. The sellout was impressive.
  • Eric Maynor got in for the final 2:45 of this one. Since Reggie Jackson was named the primary backup to Westbrook, I’ve gotten asked numerous times some version of what’s wrong with Maynor, and why isn’t he playing? It’s unbelievable. I guess some people want every single player on the roster to play. It doesn’t work that way. Not on Brooks’ watch anyway. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll have to explain this, but I’ll try nonetheless. Maynor is not hurt. He’s not in the doghouse. He didn’t lose Brooks’ trust. Maynor is not playing right now for the same reason that Jackson wasn’t playing when Maynor was the primary backup. Because Brooks uses only two point guards, and the third is just the odd man out. That’s Maynor at the moment. He might get his chance again. But right now the job belongs to Jackson, and that’s just the way it is.
  • Up next. At Toronto on Sunday.


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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