Here are five observations from the Thunder’s impressive 97-85 win in Chicago on Monday night:
1. Good timing - Similar to last week, when the hated Rockets came to town with OKC needing an energy boost, a date with the defensive-minded (and offensively challenged) Bulls provided the perfect matchup for the ailing Thunder defense. And OKC acted accordingly, stringing together one of its stingier defensive efforts in some time. And that was particularly true in the fourth quarter. With 10 minutes left, the Bulls had cut the Thunder lead to 76-75, spurred by an 8-2 run to start the fourth. But over the next six-plus minutes of game action, Chicago didn’t score. The Bulls missed 11 consecutive shots, OKC went on a 13-0 run and the game was essentially over. Sealed with some spirited Thunder defense. Something we have rarely said of late.
2. KD’s streak - Kevin Durant’s streak of 25-plus points hit 32 consecutive games on Monday night. And what a remarkable stretch it has been. Constantly explosive, incredibly consistent. According to ESPN Stats and Info, it’s the second-longest single-season streak in the past 50 years (behind only Michael Jordan’s 40-game tear). We’re watching one of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history reach greater heights than he’s ever hit. And soon, he’ll clinch his fourth scoring title in the past five years. The NBA record is 10. Durant’s only 25.
-And, oh yeah, it’s not just the scoring with KD. His final line: 35 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 turnovers, 11-of-21 shooting. Another night at the office.
3. Russell from three - Interesting trend since Russell Westbrook’s latest return from surgery: He’s been a great 3-point shooter. In the past two games, he’s gone 7-of-14 from deep. In the past 10, 25-of-57. That’s a 44 percent clip for a career 31 percent long-range shooter. A great development for Westbrook, taking his already dynamite offensive game to a completely new level. But if he regresses back to his expected mean, it could be bad news for OKC. Not sure you want a 31 percent 3-point shooter jacking up 5.7 per night. But if he’s gonna keep that clip above 40…
4. Rotation problems - The Thunder’s second-unit — which has been such a strong point for much of the season — is struggling lately. And some of that is to be expected. With two starters out — three when Westbrook rests — there are some reserve options and different combinations off the table. But that said, a few of the key bench guys are just in a funk. Derek Fisher has gone cold after a scorching two-month stretch (5-of-20 overall, 3-of-13 from three the past four games), Reggie Jackson continues his spotty play and Jeremy Lamb remains in a deep hibernation at the end of the Thunder bench. When placed in their traditional roles, the second-unit will be fine. But of late, Scott Brooks has been a bit too stubborn with who and when he’s going to his reserve squad. Especially when he packs them all together. On Monday, he played a lineup of Jackson, Fisher, Caron Butler, Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet to start the fourth. Of no coincidence, Chicago immediately went on an 8-2 run. Come playoff-time, there should never be a point where Serge Ibaka, Westbrook and Durant are all on the bench at the same time. Particularly in the fourth quarter.
-Related: Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook all had plus/minuses +22 or higher. No one else on the team was better than a +6.
5. Pick-and-roll nightmare - How’s this for a dynamic pick-and-roll duo? Russell Westbrook — an explosive rim-attacker and improving playmaker — as the ballhandler. Kevin Durant — a smooth and lanky do-everything 7-foot shooting guard — as the screen and roller. Two of the top 10 players in the world executing the most effective play in basketball. The Thunder went to it twice in the fourth quarter on Monday night. Both times, it resulted in a nearly identical slip and easy dunk for KD (check the Vine below). That’s a late-game playcall Brooks should (and probably will) go to more often.
-Steven Adams was pretty good on Monday and has been serviceable since taking over the starting role. But you want an example of what Kendrick Perkins brings that Adams doesn’t at this point? Look at his pick-and-roll defense on the play below. The rookie gets completely lost, tangled up with a cutter, allowing Jimmy Butler a WIDE open jumper. Perk may get beat with athleticism, but you’ll rarely (if ever) see him get confused with scheme or lost in the shuffle. He’s usually the one conducting coverage on that side of the floor. A moment of inexperience for Adams, an easy bucket for the Bulls.
-Caron Butler was solid, drilling three 3s, scoring 12 points and grabbing five rebounds. But I still continue to be surprised by his hefty role. Since joining OKC, here are his minutes by game: 26, 29, 24, 29, 29, 22, 29. That’s 26.8 per night, more than he was playing for the 13-54 Milwaukee Bucks. Scott Brooks loves him some veteran leadership.
-Two minutes of mop-up duty for Jeremy Lamb. No minutes for Perry Jones.
-Russell Westbrook, clearly not a fan of flopping (even though this looked like a clear foul):
-An example of Westbrook’s improved playmaking is his rare ability to fire on-point passes off the dribble with his left hand:
From a couple weeks ago:
Solid day for OKC. Spurs were idle and the Clippers loss. Now only 1.5 back of San Antonio and two up on the Clippers:
-Up next: At Cleveland on Thursday, at Toronto on Friday. My guess is Westbrook sits against the Cavs (Kyrie Irving is out) and plays the much tougher game against the Raptors. We’ll see.