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Nuggets from my notebook from Friday's win over New Orleans

by Darnell Mayberry Published: April 12, 2014
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The Pelicans can’t catch a break…

  • The outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The Thunder would have had to turn in one of its worst performances ever to lose to the inferior and injury-plagued Pelicans. The only question was whether the Thunder would come out with the right focus and put the Pelicans away early or play around, give New Orleans confidence and have to claw to a win. Oklahoma City chose the former, jumping to a 17-point first-half lead that grew as large as 34 in what was a thorough but expected thumping.
  • New Orleans came in without Anthony Davis, who is sitting out the rest of the season to nurse his back, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. Midway through the third, the Pelicans lost Tyreke Evans, their most talented remaining player. Rough night for New Orleans. Painful season for the Pelicans.
  • Davis was the draw coming into the game. But when it was announced Thursday that he would miss the remainder of the season, this one immediately became a D-U-D. Young fella has blossomed into a bona fide star and this was our last chance to see him up close and personal.
  • Strangely, his absence was felt even more after the game. Because with him on the bench in a suit, it sort of diminished what Serge Ibaka did. Again, sort of. Because Ibaka was that good. But his performance would have been much, much better had it come against Davis.
  • Ibaka finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight blocked shots. It was his 27th double-double of the year. He absolutely owned the paint. He blocked five different Pelicans’ shots.
  • “He had eight tonight, but he altered probably 10 others,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “And that’s what makes our defense good. When everybody is participating, and when we do have a breakdown, he’s out there backing everybody up and covering for everybody’s mistakes.”
  • This is the type of game that forced me to include Ibaka on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot. It’s the type of impact that made both Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins earlier in the day deem Ibaka a worthy winner of the award.
  • “I thought Serge was spectacular,” Brooks said. “He’s right there with the best defensive players in the league. He’s right there with the Defensive Player of the year.”
  • Check out how Austin Rivers put it. The best breakdown of Ibaka’s impact that I’ve hear in a long time. “He’s got great timing,” Rivers said. ‘He can just run the floor so well. Off turnovers, we didn’t capitalize and a big part of that is because most bigs can’t sprint back. Most bigs, when a turnover happens, they just hang back, or they’ll sprint and not get there. He’s fast enough to keep up with guards. When you have a 7-foot guy who can jump running on a fast break on defense, it’s hard to get to the basket. Their defense is all on him. Without Ibaka, this is a whole different team.”
  • Perhaps the play of the night came when Ibaka atoned for an errant pass that was picked off by Rivers midway through the third quarter. Ibaka hustled back on defense and pounding what would have been a runout dunk by Rivers against the glass. Ibaka then rebounded Rivers’ miss and got it to Russell Westbrook, who then fed Durant for a fast-break dunk.
  • Ibaka supplied similar momentum-changing hustle plays all night. He swatted Evans on a driving layup then darted the other way, filling the lane before taking a feed from Durant and finishing it with a forceful flush. He later swatted another driving layup attempt by Evans out of bounds and watched it result in a shot-clock violation.
  • Of course, you can’t forget about Ibaka’s flush on Greg Stiemsma just 15 seconds in out of the pick and roll with Westbrook.
  • Durant on Ibaka: “It seemed like he had 10 or 11 blocks. I don’t know how many he had officially. But it seemed like a lot. He was just protecting the paint. He was there on pick and rolls. He’s the best defensive guy in the league, I think, for his position. He was there for us all night. When we got beat on the dribble he was there; like I said on the pick and roll. So he’s doing a great job for us. And he was aggressive running the floor and knocking down that jump shot.”
  • Thabo Sefolosha brought up a great point about Ibaka’s paint protection. “It’s incredible,” he said. “But at the same time, we don’t want it to turn into a curse where we just let guys go to the basket hoping that Serge is going to be there to block shots. We got to guard our man.”
  • Oh yeah, Durant scored 27 points with six rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. And Westbrook scored 24 points with five rebounds and seven assists. You know Ibaka was pretty good if he stole the show from those types of performances.
  • Russ, KD and Ibaka scored 28 of the Thunder’s 30 first-quarter points.
  • Reggie Jackson with yet another stellar effort: 11 points, four rebounds eight assists, one steal, one blocked shot and only one turnover.
  • Just 11 turnovers for the Thunder. That’s now just 25 in the past three games. Impressive.
  • Fast break points: Thunder 28, Pelicans 0.
  • I’m really hoping KD is just coasting on defense. Darius Miller and Rivers took turns making scoring while covered by KD look easy. They joined Chandler Parsons, P.J. Tucker and Travis Outlaw as players to have done that over the past week. Durant’s scoring is great. Best in the world. But after he puts a bow on this MVP-winning season, I expect him to amp up the defense in the postseason and fully commit to that end next season. The Thunder’s got to have it.
  • In case you missed it, LeBron James has essentially conceded the MVP to Durant. KD was ho-hum in his reaction after the game and his statements virtually matched what he said Wednesday in L.A. when Clippers coach Doc Rivers called Durant this year’s MVP. “As a player, you love to have that respect from your peers,” Durant said. “And him being one of the greatest players to play is very honoring. I’m just honored for guys to speak about me like that. Coach Rivers, Doc Rivers, I heard about what he said last game and now LeBron. So just to have that respect from the guys you play against is more important than having respect from y’all (the media) in here. So I’ll take it.”
  • Durant on if he feels he’s wrapped up the MVP: “I don’t know. Anything can happen. I’m one of those guys it’s not set in stone until it’s official. So we’ll see.”
  • Late in the third, The Peake finally got it going. The crowd, in unison, serenaded Durant with a hearty chant of “M-V-P.” It only took 40 games. Durant’s reaction: “I love our fans so much because they’re all about the group. They never try to single anybody out. They cheer loud for every player and that’s great to see. But to have that support, man, you can’t beat that. It was a humbling feeling to hear them chant that. But I missed the free throw when the guy started it. So I was a little upset. But overall, it’s always fun to have your crowd behind you and pulling for you.”
  • Now I can only hope the fans that fill the arena don’t take that and turn it into more of a reason to not chant for Durant. Newsflash: he deserves to be singled out and shown some special love. Especially this year.
  • Speaking of players being singled out. With about 9 1/2 minutes remaining, a fan seated four rows behind the Thunder bench bellowed “Where’s Jeremy Lamb?” An older lady followed that up by saying “Yeah?” Seconds later, Lamb, who had yet to play, popped off the bench. It was an uncharacteristic outburst inside The Peake, but it was one that probably needs to happen more often and perhaps will over time.
  • Lamb then scored nine points in the final nine minutes.
  • Anthony Morrow, my trade target at the deadline, went a smooth 1-for-9 tonight. But he made his only 3-pointer! Shooter!!
  • Grant Jerrett was on the bench in a suit tonight. It was his first time with the team. Welcome, rook.
  • With the Thunder now healthy, Andre Roberson is now sporting a suit on the bench as well after being demoted to the inactive list the last two games. That’s a hard fall but one that pretty much tells you what the rotation will look like when the playoffs begin.
  • Up next: at Indiana on Sunday. Don’t forget. Noon tip.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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