Thunder 104, Pacers 93
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s win over Indiana.
- This was a solid, solid win for the home team. It would have been easy to have a letdown following a big win against a marquee team in the Lakers on Friday. But the Thunder fought off that temptation and came in and took care of business. That was pretty significant, especially since everything has been going right for the Thunder with the winning streak and scoring streak.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks even admitted after the game that a letdown was a concern of his. “I was a little concerned with an emotional letdown, but our guys fought through it,” Brooks said.
- Brooks thought the team came out flat and gave credit to the second unit for providing a spark. “Thank goodness for our second unit coming in and sparking us,” Brooks said.
- The second unit was indeed fantastic, starting with Kevin Martin. The sixth man was his usual efficient self, scoring 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting. He had 22 of those (on 6-for-7 shooting) in the first half, 13 in the first quarter and nine in the second. Led by Martin, the Thunder turned a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter into a 13-point advantage midway through the second period.
- Martin on the second unit: “We knew it was going to have a possibility of being like this, coming in here after a big win against L.A. and then on a Sunday when you play a little earlier. But we just wanted to come in there and jump start the night. And the other guys finished it off.”
- K-Mart on his performance: “Just being aggressive. Just doing what you’ve been doing for years. It was just one of them games where you kind of felt it.”
- Eric Maynor played some solid ball during that early stretch, which was significant for this reason: he’s still the backup point guard. Some might have had questions coming in after Reggie Jackson was sent to Tulsa for a game, perhaps a sign the team wanted to allow him to knock the cobwebs off. Couple that with the fact that Maynor got 20 games as the primary backup and, well, you start to wonder, I guess. But Maynor came in and scored six points on 3-for-4 shooting with four assists and no turnovers in 14 minutes. His defense wasn’t great, but if you’re surprised by that you must not have paid attention to Eric Maynor over the years. Considering how Maynor’s played much of the year, it was an encouraging performance, one that showed he’s still can run the offense effectively, get teammates involved score when called upon.
- Maynor even hit a floater tonight! I think he’s now 1-for-44 on those this year.
- Another key bench guy was Nick Collison. I know. What else is new? But when David West was giving Serge Ibaka the business in the first quarter, Collison came in and did the best he could to put out that fire. Collison played relentless defense on West, denying him and crowding him to either prevent him from catching it or making him extremely uncomfortable if he did. Collison came in and characterized how coaches want players to take pride in individual defense.
- To Ibaka’s credit, West was hitting some tough shots. Ibaka wasn’t exactly physical with West, but he did contest as best he could. The matchup was sort of an interesting case study, though, because as I’ve mentioned in the past Ibaka will have to start defending these stretch 4s like West more frequently. He had Antawn Jamison last game and West tonight. I asked him before the game what he’s learning about defending those types of power forwards. “Don’t just go try to over-help,” Ibaka said. “I always try to go block (shots), but when I play against those players, you need to make sure that if you go to block you block shots. Don’t just go and not block a shot because then they kick it out…Be smart. That’s it. Just be smart.”
- Side note. Ibaka declined to discuss the matter of Stephen Jackson. He deflected all questions by saying he’s just focused on his future and trying to get better. Kendrick Perkins, who is good friends with Jackson, claimed he hadn’t heard about Jackson’s comments but said he would try to talk to Jackson when informed about the matter. Perk, however, made it a point to stay out of it by choosing to not add anything else to the conversation.
- The NBA late Sunday night fined Jackson $25,000 for his comments. With the league stepping in and handing out a sanction, it essentially guarantees nothing will happen between Jackson and Ibaka the next time they’re on the court together. Big Brother is watching, and players hardly ever are reckless enough to do something silly knowing they’re being watched.
- OK. On to the main guys. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. I couldn’t believe how off they were. At one point they were a combined 8-for-29 from the field. And the Thunder still had the lead. But all that will be remembered about their nights is the fourth quarter, when they took over the game and carried the team to victory. Durant scored and rebounded. Westbrook scored and defended. Two superstars doing what superstars do.
- Durant was 4-for-17 at one point before making five of his final eight shots to finish 9-for-24 from the field. The way he just turned it, after literally not being able to draw iron early on, reminded me of the time he hit that big bucket at Chicago and walked over to Brooks and said “I’m there for you when you need me, right?”
- Westbrook was 3-for-10 at one point before making four of his final seven shots to finish 7-for-17 from the floor. But the biggest play of the night was his block on Roy Hibbert’s dunk attempt with just under four minutes left to play. “That turned the game,” Brooks said. “That sparked our guys. It gave us extra energy going into that last four or five minutes. Those are the plays that Russell can make. He has the strength and quickness like no other…And then he has the toughness to defend. He’s showing that he’s one of the best defending point guards also.”
- Westbrook on his big block: “I was the low guy helping on the roll. Our bigs were doing a great job of helping us out and my job is to help them out.”
- More from Westbrook: “Plays like that can change the whole momentum of the game, and that was one of those plays. I’m just happy it went our way.”
- As nice as the block was, Westbrook’s chase down steal on West on, if I’m not mistaken, the very next Pacers’ possession was just as impressive. “
- As for Durant’s early struggles: “I think I was just too excited after my Redskins won today. I wasn’t too focused on the game, I guess.”
- More from Durant: “I started the game off with two airballs, and I got my mind ready that it was going to be a tough game for me shooting-wise. I just tried to come through when the team needed me.”
- Wouldn’t have even been a game without K-Mart, Durant said. “He was huge,” Durant said. “Without him, we would have been down 10, 15 points. He came through for us and that’s what we need from him all season. He was big with carrying us when me and Russell were struggling; Serge. He did a great job of carrying us into that second half.”
- Everybody was disappointed in the defense tonight, rightfully so. It stunk for the most part. At halftime, the Pacers were shooting 60 percent, prompting Brooks to allegedly light into his squad in the locker room. “Coach really got after us and that’s what we needed,” Durant said.
- After allowing 56 points on 60 percent shooting in the first half, the Thunder held the Pacers to 37 points on 33.3 percent shooting.
- Indiana had an opponent-low seven turnovers tonight. It’s only the second time all season the Thunder hasn’t forced at least 10 turnovers. Memphis had the previous low with eight.
- Given the Pacers’ minimal turnovers (which only led to eight Thunder points), it’s sort of amazing that OKC bumped its 100-point streak to 12 straight games. In the past, if the Thunder wasn’t able to score off turnovers it would be a big-time struggle offensively. But that’s just another sign of how much this team had matured.
- The Thunder’s 10 turnovers were a season low, two fewer than the previous low. You won’t catch me claiming that’s any sort of sign of the team’s maturity. We all know OKC is liable to have 19 against the Hornets.
- To the Thunder’s credit, over the past four games the team has averaged just 13 turnovers. If the Thunder did that all season, it would rank third in the league.
- With a win Wednesday against the Hornets, the Thunder can match its best start to a season if it moves to 18-4.
- Lance Stephenson can flat out score. He’s the exact type of guy fans might call a bum, but the type that if you saw him in another setting you’d think he was the best player you’ve ever seen.
- If I was creating myself on, say, NBA 2K13 I think I’d mold the prototypical me in the same size, shape and physical skills of a Paul George. That guy is a specimen and his skills are freakish.
- Hibbert: $13.6 million, six rebounds. Perkins: $7.8 million, nine rebounds. On that note, I’m dropping the mic and exiting stage left.
- Up next: Hornets on Wednesday.
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