A Thunder-loving fan a few rows off the floor held up a little green vial and declared she had brought Kryptonite to counter Dwight Howard. But it was no potion that felled Superman on Sunday night at the Ford Center.
The Thunder took a weakness and made it a strength. Took a disadvantage and made it an edge. The Thunder routed Orlando 102-74 by neutralizing Howard, the NBA’s best center. Howard’s monster game last November — 30 points, 19 rebounds, 10 blocked shots — resounded through memories Sunday night. "I remember the blocked shots,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "It’s virtually impossible to get 10 blocked shots.” But not even Superman can block shots if he doesn’t guard the goal. The Thunder pulled center Nenad Krstic away from the basket and made Howard defend on the perimeter. Krstic sank seven of 12 shots; five of his field goals were from at least 17 feet out. "We had to use that advantage we had with Nenad,” said the Thunder’s Jeff Green. "With him knocking down shots, it made the basket a lot clearer.” The Thunder still learned their lesson. They attacked the basket with wisdom. Howard goal-tended the Thunder’s second shot of the game — a floating 8-footer by Kevin Durant — and blocked none the rest of the game. The NBA is all about matchups. A constant chess match. The Thunder’s use of Krstic was the killer cross-over. You would expect the Thunder to resort to brawny backup center Etan Thomas against Howard. But finesse worked just as well. "You like to get the league’s best shot blocker away from the basket,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.