With Darnell Mayberry back in Oklahoma City for this road trip, his traditional postgame nuggets are on a brief hiatus. It’s a sad time for you Thunder Heads, I know, but I’ll try to do my best to fill in.
Here’s five postgame observations (Darnell has trademarked the word nuggets) and some other brief musings from the Thunder’s win in Atlanta on Tuesday night:
1. Westbrook’s night - In the two games prior to Tuesday’s in Atlanta, Russell Westbrook went a combined 19-of-33 from the field. It was his best back-to-back shooting performance of the young season and, finally, he seemed to be getting his touch, from both mid-range and around the rim, back. Then, against the Hawks, he went a hellacious 6-of-21 from the field, clanging long threes and blowing layups at the rim in one of his least efficient shooting nights of the year. But you know what, I thought he played a good overall game. Westbrook spearheaded another fantastic defensive effort (four steals, constant harassment) and almost put up a triple-double (14 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds). Plus, he made two of the biggest shots down the stretch, twisting in a wild reverse layup and canning a three for the Thunder’s final two field goals.
2. Defense reigns - The Thunder has won 11 of its last 12 games. And in related news, here are the shooting percentages, in order, of the teams they’ve faced during that stretch: 35, 48, 41, 39, 39, 44, 41, 39, 44, 37, 40, 35. It’s not the sexiest thing to discuss, because missed shots never are, but opponent’s field goal percentage is often the best indicator of a defense’s effectiveness. And lately, the Thunder has been dynamite in that area. And that was key in the win over Atlanta on Tuesday, with OKC holding the seventh-best shooting team in the league to a woeful 35 percent clip. The highlights will be dunks, the headlines will be stats, but on a night-to-night basis, steady and rock-solid defense continues to set this team apart.
3. Kevin Doooorant - Ho hum. Just another 30-point, 10-rebound, 5-assist night, where two of his bigger plays may have come on the defensive end, with a pair of impressive, ‘My God, does he have a 9-foot wingspan?’ type blocks. Also, on an unrelated note: There were probably double the amount of Kevin Durant jerseys/shirts than Hawks jerseys/shirts in the Atlanta crowd.
4. The Adams family - Following his 17-point, 10-rebound breakout in Detroit early last month, Steven Adams tailed off a bit. His production, impact and minutes dwindled over the next couple weeks. But as of late, with his role still somewhat limited, Adams is back to giving the Thunder great minutes. I thought his activity in brief spurts on Tuesday was huge. He only got 11 minutes, the lowest among Thunder players who saw the floor, but he was impactful for that entire stretch. Defensively, he clogged the lane, ripped down four rebounds and blocked two Paul Millsap shots (with one erased by a questionable foul). And offensively, he flashed that unique touch around the rim, floating in a contested hook and rolling in a lay-in off a tough catch. Moving forward, Brooks should find him more minutes for him in different pockets of the game. His play has warranted it.
5. The ATL - Because of the off-day between games, I got an extended tour of Atlanta. Two days, two nights and plenty of fun. I walked around Turner Field and the Georgia Dome (both cool-looking venues), ate at the famous Vortex (couldn’t bring myself to trying the double bypass, for fear of heart attack), checked out the Georgia Tech campus (had no idea it was in downtown Atlanta) and toured the TNT studios (see picture below). With all of that, I was impressed. But the actual game night atmosphere was a bit of a disappointment. I was warned by all that Atlanta isn’t known as the most rabid sports fanbase. But I figured the KD/Thunder draw, along with the Hawks mild success early this season, would draw far more fans and interest than it did.
Chilling in the NBA on TNT studio:
Fan of the night
—> This guy
-Andre Roberson got the start in place of an injured Thabo Sefolosha (sprained right knee, day-to-day). And Roberson was useful in his 12 minutes, grabbing five rebounds, hounding Kyle Korver all over the court and even contributing with an athletic putback.With time, I think he’s going to be a solid role player in this league.
-Second straight solid performance from Kendrick Perkins. He had four points, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in 24 minutes, playing solid defense on Hawks star Al Horford for a majority of the night. And maybe the biggest positive: He didn’t make a play that made you shake your head. Perkins after the game: “I’m straight, I’m feeling good”
-Jeremy Lamb went an efficient 5-of-9 shooting for 11 points. And he did it in front of some family and friends. Lamb is from Norcross, Georgia, which is only about a 25-minute drive from downtown Atlanta.
-A nugget from Mayberry:
-The Thunder’s six road wins have come against teams with a combined record of 45-81. Atlanta, at 11-11, has the best record of the teams they’ve beat.
-Grizzlies on Wednesday night. No Marc Gasol. But on the second night of a back-to-back, it should still be a stiff test.