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Thunder 100, Hawks 92

by Darnell Mayberry Published: December 19, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday's win at Atlanta.

  • Here's Russell Westbrook's reaction to what Kevin Durant did against the Hawks. "That’s why he's the best scorer in the game," Westbrook said. "He does that on a nightly basis for us. He wins games for us, and he's the MVP right now."
  • Durant scored a game- and season-high 41 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter to bury the Hawks. He had 28 in the second half, scoring on a barrage of mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers, putbacks and pull-ups, foul shots and dunks. He took over, plain and simple. And there wasn't a thing Atlanta could do about it.
  • "I've seen it so many times," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "I know when he gets hot it's hard to turn him off. And he was hot in that second half."
  • After his 30th point, a fast break dunk in which Josh Smith nearly took off his head, Durant strolled over to the crowd, peered into the stands, puffed out his chest and proclaimed "This is my (expletive) house!" But after the game, long after he had put his cape back in the closest, Superman slipped back to Clark Kent. Still, I had to ask him, just so we were clear, whose house it was. Of course, the unassuming Durant tried his best to dodge that bullet. "Uh," he smiled and said. "I don't remember that."
  • The best part of Durant's second-half domination is that it followed Westbrook's first-half scoring surge and came at the exact moment when the Thunder needed it most, when Westbrook turned cold and could barely buy a bucket. That's what makes this Thunder team so dangerous, this duo so deadly. What do you do with that? What on earth do you possibly do?
  • Westbrook scored 21 points in the first half, making seven of 13 shots and shoving it in the Hawks faces every time they dared back off and allow him to shoot. Behind Westbrook's hot start, the Thunder built a 17-poing first-half lead and appeared set to cruise to a cakewalk.
  • While Westbrook was rolling, Durant was reserved. He sat back and waited his turn, as we've seen him do much of this season. Durant took just seven first-half shots, making four and netting 13 points. But in the second half, the roles were reversed. Westbrook scored just six on 2-for-8 shooting. Durant had his 28 on 10-for-16 shooting.
  • Durant on the difference between his two halves: "Just taking shots. I took some questionable ones, but my teammates wanted me to do it. I just tried to ignite my team by playing hard, getting rebounds, playing defense and on the other end just trying to be aggressive. I turned the ball over a few times, but it's something I can live with because I was trying to make the right passes. I was trying to be aggressive."
  • Westbrook showed incredible maturity on the court and in his answers back in the locker room tonight. I think most people know by now that Westbrook generally is in funky moods with the media. But every now and then he lightens up and provides some pretty insightful perspective. Tonight was one of those nights.
  • Westbrook on making the Hawks pay for giving him the jump shot: "Miss or make, I've got to shoot it with confidence. I shoot the ball with confidence every time down the floor so if they're going to give it to me I'm going to take it."
  • Westbrook on whether he's surprised by Durant's sudden scoring bursts: "My job is to find a way to get him easy ones, whether it's a layup, a dunk, a fast break or whatever it is. And I know once he gets that, it's over."
  • Westbrook on how he avoids getting caught watching KD when he's on a tear: "My job is to make sure I run the team. Whatever Kevin's doing, I know he's going to take care of that. My job is to instruct the other guys, make sure we're defending every time down the floor and make sure we're taking care of business."
  • As an aside. I asked Westbrook before the game whether he would ditch the finger-holstering celebration he does following made 3-pointers in light of the Newtown, CT tragedy. Joakim Noah retired his similar celebration. Westbrook will not. "I don't know why he does it," Westbrook said of Noah. "It's different. I don't know what he's doing. I don't do all that (extra motioning). But, nah, never because I don't have guns. I'm shooting the 3. I don't think about it like that. I never have (related it to guns)."
  • Durant said he knew he was hot when he walked into a deep 3-pointer off a feed from Thabo Sefolosha with 7:08 left to play. It pushed the Thunder's lead from five to eight and was as cold-blooded as you could get. It was back-breaking for the Hawks, who were making a run and saw a chance to knock off the hottest team in the NBA...It also was a terrible shot, one of those "questionable" ones Durant described above. But it went in so it's water under the bridge. "After that shot, I felt like I had a nice rhythm going and I just tried to exploit the matchups," Durant said.
  • Noticed I haven't even mentioned that Westbrook played this game with a sore wrist? He had his left wrist tapped after that hard fall Monday night against San Antonio. But he never said more than one word about it when asked how it was doing: "fine." That's why he's Wolverine.
  • Though he threw it down with the opposite hand, Westbrook's monster dunk four minutes into this one proved he was indeed feeling fine. You know a dunk is nasty when Nick Collison pops up off the bench.
  • Durant generally refrains from talking about his scoring exploits. Tonight was no different. Asked about his 40-point game, Durant still found a way to bring up his teammates. "I think the best part about it is that my teammates wanted me to shoot. They wanted me to take the tougher shots. They wanted me to shoot over two people. So that always gives me confidence. And I just tried to go out there and come through for us."
  • Durant's most memorable shot over two people came on his 18-foot fadeaway with three minutes left. All you could do is scrunch up your face and shake your head. It was filthy, and I swear a third defender was running at him.
  • The surprise of the night came when Brooks subbed in Jeremy Lamb with 3:11 remaining in the opening quarter. That alone sort of took some guts by Brooks, because the last time he tried Lamb early in the game it wasn't pretty. That was in Detroit, in the sixth game of the season, at a time when the Thunder actually had the lead. Tonight, OKC trailed 16-15 when Lamb checked in, joining Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Serge Ibaka and Collison.
  • But Lamb played a great five minutes. He was smart on offense and sound on D. He scored five points, made two of his three shot attempts, including a 3-pointer and got a rebound and a steal in his time on the court. Who's ready to see him take the starting job from Thabo?
  • Brooks on Lamb: "He's been working really hard. The thing about our team is we have a really good team and it's hard to get minutes. Guys just have to really be ready and when your number is called produce. And I thought he did a good job on the defensive end. We know that he can make shots. But defensively, he was playing physical and he wasn't allowing their post-up players to get good position. I liked his five minutes. They were solid."
  • The biggest surprise within the surprise of the night was that Josh Smith couldn't post up on Lamb despite Lamb giving up 45 pounds and four inches on the block. The first time Smith tried, he passed out. The second time, Lamb bodied up and forced Smith to dribble the ball off his foot out of bounds.
  • You can't help but think Lamb's performance was in part a result of that initial experience at Detroit. He learned from it, got better because of it. He told me that night that he would be more aggressive the next time his number got called in a similar situation. He did just that tonight. Don't discount Lamb's D-League experience this season either as a contributing factor to his performance.
  • Lamb said he still had no idea he was going to play. But this time he was ready. "I went in the game more focused, and I think I did a little better," he said. "My teammates were looking for me and really were cheering me on. I was excited for the opportunity and just tried to give all I could."
  • Lamb on the difference: "Just time, practicing and getting better. I've really been working with the coaches and they've really been helping me out. And today I was just able to do a little bit of it."
  • Lamb: "It's a little confidence booster, but you want to stay focused. You never want to get too high or too low. You want to keep working and just do all I can to get better. Just work hard."
  • Brooks stopped Lamb on his way back to the bench and gave him a few words. What were they? "He just said good job. Way to play. Keep playing hard."
  • It was really cool to see how pumped up the bench was for Lamb. If that doesn't tell you how these guys feel about each other nothing will. Durant was skipping in front of the scorer's table after Lamb knocked down his 3, almost trotting back down court with Lamb.
  • Speaking of Durant's antics. I love, love, love how he begs for the ball when Russ has it. KD turns into a full blown 5-year-old. He flails his arms, jumps up and down and slaps his hands against his hips when the pass doesn't come his way. You really ought to pay attention to him during those moments. It's pure comedy.
  • Hasheem Thabeet hit a 17-footer!! He told me after the game that it was his first points this season outside the paint. He was pretty pumped about it, too. Said he shot it before he even caught it. But he shot it with supreme confidence, and I've seen him make those after practice. So why not?
  • Ibaka scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting and I thought he played a great game. He had a game-high 14 rebounds and three blocked shots and played outstanding defense on Josh Smith and, at times, Al Horford. He stayed in front of his men, made them shoot over the top and contested shots without fouling. He also made hustle plays throughout the night, diving on the floor for loose balls and keeping plays alive on the glass.
  • The biggest hustle play goes to Westbrook, who jumped into the crowd for a loose ball late in the game. He landed directly on a male fans lap, possibly even in the crotch area. The funny part about that sequence is the guy Westbrook landed on didn't even get the worst of it. It was the guy Westbrook accidentally elbowed in the face as he was being helped up who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Eric Maynor air-balled a halfcourt shot. Shocking, I know.
  • Jeff Teague's chase-down block on Maynor was pretty impressive. That's one athletic point guard.
  • The Thunder played Philips Arena a game too early. Had OKC been scheduled to play the Hawks one home game later, I would have gotten to see T.I. perform at halftime. I'm pretty salty about that.
  • In OKC, we get Tommy Tutone. In ATL, they get hometown guy T.I. Get it together, OKC game ops crew.
  • A friendly suggestion to the Thunder's game ops crew: get Olate Dogs to OKC IMMEDIATELY. It's only one of the best halftime shows I've ever seen. And if you can, save it for a longer halftime if there is such a thing, like in a playoff game or something. These dogs were incredible. They did back flips and walked on a hamster wheel backwards WHILE BEING PUSHED BY ANOTHER DOG and cleared hurdles by jumping only with only their hind legs. It was fantastic. All of it was simply fantastic.
  • So Westbrook has the Dirk one-legged fadeaway, too, huh? Not bad.
  • Westbrook had a pick-and-roll with KD with 4:47 left in the second quarter that was as good as it gets. Westbrook's pinpoint pass is worth going back and watching...again and again and again.
  • The Hawks had one of those special cheering sections that are popping up around NBA arenas. If you haven't seen them, it's basically a group that dresses similarly and stands in one section for the majority of the game and cheers all night. But this group was awful. And I'll give you one reason why. You know the old high school and college crowd routine when a guy fouls out and everybody counts out his step as he makes his way to the bench? Know how they scream sit down when he's about to sit? Yeah, that one. These bozos were doing that when Thunder players were being subbed out. It was just out of place.
  • Kendrick Perkins and Maynor were shown on the kiss cam tonight. Maynor looked up and mouthed "what the..." Perk then leaned over and gave him a kiss on the top of the head.
  • Teague and Perkins got into a war of words for a brief moment. I actually would have liked to have seen those two square off. Amazingly, Teague was doing most of the talking.
  • Anybody have a prettier release off curls than Durant?
  • Tons of OKC gear in the house tonight. Funny, I don't remember this many Thunder fans out this way back in '08.
  • That third quarter was bad, real bad.
  • Got to give it up to Thabo tonight. He was MIA for a long time. And just when I said out loud "Thabo hasn't done anything tonight," he got a steal, hit two 3s and blocked Horford's shot.
  • Thabo hit three shots tonight, and each one of them was huge.
  • I'll never understand why Sefolosha sags off his man so much. He shows a double so hard that his man is wide open for 3s. It's probably the game plan to do it. But it generally kills the Thunder.
  • That's it. That's now 12 straight for the Thunder, which improved its league-best record to 21-4. Durant was asked if the Thunder can play any better right now or if this is about as well as the team has played in a long time in the regular season. "We can always be better," he said. "We just got to keep taking it a day at a time, keep pressing forward. We got a lot of road games coming up so we just got to continue to stick together and play hard every minute. So we'll see. Hopefully we get better."
  • Up next. At Minnesota on Thursday night in a TNT game.
-DM-

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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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