Warriors 104, Thunder 99
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday's loss at Golden State.
- Can't be too mad with this one. Frustrated? For sure. Disappointed? No doubt. But from the start this one was going to be a battle, a slugfest for which the Thunder had to suit up on the second night of a back-to-back, in one of the league's most pressure-packed places, against a rising conference contender. Taking all that into account, it's impossible to not tip your cap to the Thunder for taking this game deep into the fourth quarter even though it fell short.
- It's the way it ended -- which, really, was a microcosm of the entire contest -- that allows frustration to seep in. Poor defense. Sloppy passes. Poor shot selection. Costly turnovers. In other words, 'The Works.' Clearly the Thunder wasn't on its A-game tonight. And because OKC wasn't, Golden State stole a game and secured another signature home win.
- In the final four minutes, just before the Thunder relinquished its final lead of the night, OKC went 1-for-6 with three turnovers. There was no ball movement. No structured sets. No rhythm. In other words, 'Hero ball.' The lone bucket came on a tip-in by Kendrick Perkins.
- Over that same span, the Warriors made five of eight shots and had three assists against just one turnover. The ball was moving. The Warriors were finding the open man. The execution was creating easy shots.
- Worst of all, the Thunder couldn't contain one of the simplest sets NBA teams run. It's called floppy, which I wrote about in my online game story. Here's how Perk put it. "They got whatever they wanted," he said. "They basically ran one play the whole night, the floppy play, and they got whatever they wanted. And (that's on) all of us because either the big was getting the slip pass or they was coming off and shooting. We just wasn't physical enough with them."
- The Thunder had 19 turnovers tonight and six came in the fourth quarter. The first three of the period prevented OKC from extended its lead. The final three ensured the Thunder wouldn't crawl out of the ditch the first three helped dig.
- Kevin Durant had four by himself in the fourth quarter, and it's a shame that his night ended the way it did because it marred an otherwise magnificent performance that, ironically, was among his best as a playmaker.
- Obviously, Durant's final turnover was the most costly. It came out of a timeout. The Thunder trailed by two and had a chance to tie it or win it. But KD threw a pass to Stephen Curry (intended for Perk) with 14.9 seconds remaining and that was all she wrote.
- Durant on the play call coming out of the timeout: "Our design was to get me a shot coming off toward the corner. But they had two on the ball. They left Perk. I just got to make a better read. I thought he was going to dive. But I got to hold onto that ball. That's all on me. I can't put Perk in that position. When I seen two on the ball it kind of caught me off guard. I got to be quicker on my toes. I got to make better plays."
- Warriors coach Mark Jackson on that pivotal play: "At that time we wanted to get the ball out of Durant's hands, or at least make him take a tough shot. So we committed two guys to him. Actually, I just watched it again and it was a great read by Steph because Westbrook is a little further out. Steph anticipated the play and got back in the picture. That's what we talk about, multiple effort plays. He was on Westbrook initially but got back into the play. That's what good defensive teams do, and that's what good defensive individuals do. They make multiple effort plays and make sure they are in the mix."
- I imagine that possession would make for an interesting film review. Both for the Thunder and Thunder fans. Jackson's comments about Russell Westbrook being "a little further out" illustrates how important it is to be in the right place at the right time. We always hear about how pro sports are games of inches. But in this case, it perhaps really was. Had Westbrook been in a different, perhaps better, position, Curry might not have left him and Perk then might have been wide open. Durant's pass probably wouldn't have gotten picked off, and the Thunder might have tied the game. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if Scott Brooks and his staff spent a fair amount of time over the next 24 hours dissecting that play.
- Again, Durant was downright awesome. He scored 18 points (on eight shots) and had eight assists by halftime. He was well on his way toward a triple-double until cooling off considerably in the third quarter. But when the Warriors wouldn't go away, Durant again became dialed in to start the fourth and nearly put them away. He scored eight points in the first 5 1/2 minutes, splashing in jump shots that made you think he was about to have one of those fourth quarters. Then his bout with turnovers began.
- Durant on his playmaking: "They were playing me so tight. On pick and rolls, they were pressuring me. I would catch the ball at the elbow, my sweet spot, and they were bringing two or three guys and shifting and loading up to me. So I just tried to make the right pass."
- A byproduct of Durant's unselfishness and ability to make the right play was Perk putting up points. He scored a season-high-tying 12 tonight, six coming in the first quarter. Perk's first two buckets came off assists from Durant, as the two properly read the defense and effectively played off each other. "I wanted to bounce back after the last game," Perk said after committing four fouls in seven minutes against the Clippers. "I just was finding the open gap."
- More of a breakdown from Perk: "I'm watching guys double Kevin, so I start watching film to see where I could find my spots to get in and get some opportunities. I just wanted to be aggressive."
- Can it continue, Perk? "If they double, I'm going to find the open spots. It's just with our team you never know. It's always up and down whether it's going to come or not so sometimes the pass may be there. It just takes a great deal of focus just to be ready. But it shows you steps that we're starting to improve on and get better at with making the extra pass."
- Something else is starting to reveal itself. It's the identity of the second unit. Here we are, for all this time, talking about the bench needing more scoring and a better backup point guard and this and that. But while waiting for the B Team to develop a potent offense similar to last year's squad, many of us are missing what's taking shape. The second string is carving out an identity. It's defense, toughness and togetherness. Scoring might not always be there for the second unit but defensive tenacity can be. It's an intriguing development to keep an eye on, because that bench bunch is beginning to play some inspired ball.
- Tonight, coach Brooks unleashed one of the seldom-used young guns on the bench, rookie forward Perry Jones III. It came out of nowhere. When PJ3 checked in with 1:34 remaining in the opening quarter, even the PA announcer sounded shocked as he pronounced his name.
- The Thunder began the second quarter with Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, DeAndre Liggins, PJ3 and Nick Collison. It could have passed for a preseason lineup, or a sort of souped up summer league squad. But that group was all business. They turned a one-point deficit at the end of the first quarter into a three-point lead a minute and a half into the second period. Durant replaced PJ3 and that group then upped the lead to five before the regulars began returning.
- Jackson might be ready to turn the corner with his offense. He still can't hit a jump shot at the moment, but he was in attack mode at the start of that second quarter and when I spoke with him briefly after the game he hinted that he'd look to do that more frequently. You saw tonight how easy it is for Jackson to get to the rim. He isn't always a consistent finisher once there. But he's young enough and unselfish enough to make you think that once he gets more experience he'll finish better and/or create something easy for others more consistently once there.
- Of course, as soon as Jackson showed his aggressiveness Durant came back in. And, of course, that's when Jackson had to take his foot off the gas. I mentioned this in my chat on Tuesday, but it might be that the Thunder is improperly using Jackson. I say set him free. Let him go score. Let him be aggressive. Let him make plays. That's when he's at his best offensively, when he's using his God-given athleticism to blow past defenders and apply pressure on the defense. If he's going to continue to be called upon to bring the ball up and simply dish it to KD, the Thunder might as well hand the job back to Eric Maynor. Better yet, if Jackson doesn't take over more frequently (or be a consistent pest on the defensive end), the job will go back to Maynor.
- I've mentioned this before about Jackson, but he stuffed the stat sheet again tonight so I'll give it up to him in this regard again. He had five points, six rebounds and three assists in just 12 minutes. That's insane! His six boards tied Perk for the team lead tonight, and Jackson didn't turn it over a single time.
- Steph Curry really knows how to make an acrobatic layup.
- K-Mart stepped on the line again as he caught the ball and made his move. We need to come up with a name for this immediately.
- Did I mention the Thunder had 19 turnovers? Well, they led to 24 Warriors points.
- The early turnovers were maddening. OKC had six in the first period and they led to eight Warriors points. Many of those transition points were layups. Ten of Golden State's first 15 points came in the paint. Bad tone-setter.
- And now to Westbrook. I'm not going to overreact to his performance or rip him for it. We all know he was bad. It happens. The guy's been on a tear lately and if you don't know by now that he'll win you more games than he'll lose you then you're just choosing ignorance.
- Still, in this one Westbrook was as bad as we've ever seen him. And that's because, unlike countless other off nights, he never snapped out of it. Seemed like only a matter of time before Westbrook drew the claws and went all Wolverine on the Warriors. Typically, it happens in the last five minutes of forgettable performances like this. Tonight, things only got worse as the game went on.
- At least Skip Bayless won't be able to rip Westbrook on Thursday for taking more shots than KD. There's a silver lining in everything people.
- Skip would have had a field day if Westbrook did attempt just one more than KD. Somehow, this loss would have been solely on Westbrook's shoulders. (It wasn't). Knowing Skip, it still will be.
- On a much more serious note, Brooks isn't expected to miss any games following the death of his mother.
- Collison on the 2-2 record on this six-game trip: "We've been a little bit up and down on the trip. I thought we played well (Tuesday) night, but the other three games were not great. We just got to get back to it. The good thing about our team is we know what to do…We know when we're not playing well, and we know what we need to do to play better so hopefully we’ll do that the next night out."
- Durant was asked at the end of his postgame interview whether it is harder for the Thunder to get up for every game now that it is defending Western Conference champs. "If it was like that, we wouldn't be 33-10," Durant started. "We get up for every game. We know every game is important. That's how we look at it here. It's a big game every game, no matter who we're playing. Our record shows that we don't take any team lightly. We're not harping on the success of last year and winning the Western Conference Finals. That's over with. We get up for every single game."
- Durant, without pause, then added this. "And me as the leader of this team, I'm not going to let nobody come in here and be sluggish or take nights off, or overlook a team, or look past a game," he said. "I'm on everybody's ass."
- Finally, an interesting question was posed to me early in the game by one of the Warriors beat writers. He asked who the Thunder doesn't want to see in the first round. After only a few seconds of thought my response was I don't think it matters. He agreed. He then said someone had told him the Thunder might not want to see the Warriors. I agreed but said I don't really see them falling to the eighth seed (or even seventh). If they did, it might go five games, maybe six. But more likely an entertaining five. My question, though, is which team, or teams, do you think the Thunder would rather not face in the first round?
- Up next. At Sacramento on Friday.
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