Golden State coach Mark Jackson has long been a strong supporter of Russell Westbrook and frequently has said the Thunder's three-time All-Star point guard does not warrant all the criticism he receives.
It's a stance Jackson often took on national broadcasts while analyzing games for ABC and ESPN alongside Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, and Jackson reiterated his position before Wednesday night's 119-98 loss to OKC at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Man, the guy's a great player,” Jackson said. “And I knew that even when I wasn't a coach, covering the Thunder. I didn't understand the nitpicking about shooting too much. No, the guy's a heck of a basketball player. Kevin Durant is a superstar. Russell Westbrook completes this team and makes it tough for an opposing team's coach or design to be simply on Kevin Durant. Those are two guys with their foot on the gas pedal. It's an extremely well-coached basketball team and once again has a legitimate chance.”
Jackson is viewed by many as the leading contender for NBA Coach of the Year, and Durant said the Warriors have taken on Jackson's determination.
“He's a New York guy. That's how they are up there in New York — tough-minded, never get rattled,” Durant said. “I always had so much respect for Mark Jackson and everything he stood for, as a man first off. He's bringing a new identity there to Golden State. The guys are playing hard for him, they love playing for him. I know a few guys on the team who say he's a player's coach.”
Some of that tough-mindedness might have been interpreted otherwise when rookie Draymond Green shoved Thunder sixth man Kevin Martin hard out of bounds late in the third quarter. Martin took exception and scored 10 points in less than four minutes at the start of the fourth quarter.
ON YOUR MARK
The previous two weeks, Durant was quick to remind Martin of the updated NBA free-throw percentage standings.
“I let him know every day,” Durant said. “I didn't say nothing (Wednesday) because I was down. I missed five free throws in two games, so I've got to get back on track. I'm going to get him. I'm going to catch him.”
Durant (.902) previously occupied the top spot, but has since slipped to No. 3 after going 28 for 36 (.777) the last four games. Martin (.905) now sits atop the league and is followed by Golden State's Stephen Curry (.903).
Durant and Martin are attempting to become the third pair of teammates to finish 1-2 in the season's final free throw standings, joining Rick Barry and Calvin Murphy, who did it twice with Houston, plus Larry Bird and Danny Ainge with Boston.
Who is Thunder coach Scott Brooks picking to win the race?
“I like Kevin,” Brooks deadpanned.
This season started out so well for Thunder forward Serge Ibaka at the free-throw line, where he converted 35 of his first 38 free throws and his percentage sparkled at .921.
Since then, however, Ibaka's percentage has been just .694 (59 for 85). He sits at .764 this season, which is still a career high.
Golden State center Andrew Bogut has returned from his ankle injury, but sat out Wednesday to rest because it was the back end of back-to-back games for the Warriors, who lost 140-109 at Houston on Tuesday.
As part of his rehabilitation process, Bogut will not play in back-to-back games until after the All-Star break.
The Thunder has not faced the 7-foot, 260-pound Bogut since Nov. 20, 2010, when he had eight points and 12 rebounds with Milwaukee in an 82-81 loss to OKC.
Even though the Warriors have dropped the first two games of their current four-game road trip, Durant said he sees some similarities in a 30-19 team that has quickly solidified itself as a playoff team.
“They remind me of us a couple years ago … when we were quietly winning games,” Durant said. “Same thing with those guys. They're playing well. They're playing great basketball, so you can't forget about them.”
Wednesday marked the first time the Thunder had won consecutive games since Jan. 18. In that same stretch, OKC never lost two straight, either, going 4-4. … OKC is 22-3 at home, which trails only San Antonio (23-2). … The Thunder is 25-6 against Western Conference opponents, but just 12-6 against the Eastern Conference. … Former Thunder reserve guard Nate Robinson last week was named Eastern Conference player of the week.
Golden State guard Klay Thompson after Wednesday's game: “That was inexcusable, especially after what happened (Tuesday) night (at Houston). Our defense has been horrible the past two games. It was awful, but we've got a day to fine-tune some things (before playing at Memphis on Friday).”