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 Sacramento on Tuesday night:
1. Starters/bench disparity - Sometimes plus/minus can be a deceiving stat. On this night, it wasn’t. The Thunder starters were a combined -39. The Thunder bench was a combined +47. Neither of those numbers are surprising. It’s not as if all of OKC’s starters were bad. KD had 27 points and 11 rebounds. But the team just seems to run better lately when there is an influx of reserves on the court, specifically Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson. That was clear on Tuesday. Just look at some of the runs: 17-8 Kings at the start of the first half, 38-25 Thunder after Reggie Jackson entered, 18-14 Kings to start the second half, immediate 18-0 Thunder run after Lamb and Jackson enter.
2. Crunch-time five - Down the stretch, Scott Brooks went with my favorite of his lineups: Russell Westbrook – Reggie Jackson – Jeremy Lamb – Kevin Durant – Serge Ibaka. What a dynamic and versatile group. All five are 25 or younger. All five have elite athleticism. All five can be disruptive on defense. And all five bring something different and useful to the table offensively. They cause so many matchup problems and can play so many styles. I wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes Brooks’ common go-to closing five by playoff time.
3. Reggie Jackson - He’s been fantastic during this entire eight-game win streak (13.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists in 24.5 minutes a night), but particularly of late and specifically during the fourth quarter. In three of the last four games (against the Spurs, Wolves and Kings), Jackson has played the entire fourth. In those 36 minutes, he’s a combined 13-of-15 shooting for 30 points. And you can see his confidence growing by the minute. A quick example of that came Tuesday: After Jackson blew by Marcus Thornton on a drive in the fourth quarter, he turned to the Thunder bench and yelled, ‘He can’t guard me man’, basically pleading the staff to keep exploiting that matchup. Then, seconds later, after Jason Thompson received a technical, Jackson turned around and started heading toward the free throw line. Kevin Durant was on the court, so Kevin Durant was always going to cash in that free point. But the fact that Jackson thought he should take the shot speaks volumes (Related: Jackson is 24-of-26 from the line this year, an impressive 92 percent).
4. Good fortune - The Thunder catch a pair of breaks on this three-game road trip. On Tuesday, the Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins (ankle) and on Friday, the Pelicans will be without Anthony Davis (fractured hand). That’s two of the best young players in the league and a pair of struggling franchises missing their cornerstone piece.
5. Road atmosphere - This was my first road game on the beat and it came in a pretty tame Sacramento atmosphere. But it was still a fun experience. The thing that surprised me most (even though it probably shouldn’t have) was how many Thunder fans there were. Probably saw more OKC jerseys than that of the home team. My three favorite fans: the guy wearing a #25 Thabo Sefolosha jersey (that’s dedication), the girl with a ‘All I want for Christmas is to meet Reggie Jackson’ sign (KD looked at her and shook his head, to which she yelled ‘I want to meet you, too’) and the kid 25 rows up who ripped his shoe off pregame and was raising it in the air, 10 minutes before tip, yelling for Durant to leave the layup line and come sign it. One can dream.
-Our press seats in Sacramento were near the baseline in the corner, right behind the Thunder bench. My favorite part (and least favorite, for viewing purposes) of the seat was watching Hasheem Thabeet’s bench celebrations. He basically mimics, in an more awkward sort of way, the celebration of the player who made the most recent play. Watching him attempt the Russell Westbrook gun holster maneuver was high comedy.
-Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka combined to take all of the Thunder’s first 24 shots on Tuesday. Reggie Jackson’s layup attempt more than 10 minutes into the game was the first shot not taken by OKC’s big three. In related news, the ball was sticky and the offense was stagnant in the first quarter, with OKC shooting 7-of-27 and only scoring 19 points.
-DNP for Perry Jones tonight and only one minute combined in the past four games. Buried behind an established frontcourt.
-The Thunder still haven’t beat ANYBODY on the road (Utah, Milwaukee, Detroit, Sacramento, combined record: 19-51). That could change tomorrow in Portland.