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Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday's win over the Pacers

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: December 9, 2013 at 12:30 am •  Published: December 9, 2013

Pacers didn’t look like the league’s best defensive team tonight…

  • First, the excuses. The Pacers were playing the last game of a five-game trip. Check. Indiana was on a back-to-back. Check. They played at San Antonio of all places the night before. Check. And the Pacers smoked the Spurs, perhaps allowing them to come in satisfied with the prospect of finishing no worse than 3-2 on this trip. Check. Did I miss anything?
  • Because now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to give the rest of the credit to the Thunder. This was the best win of the year. And it may not be close. The Spurs game is up there. The Timberwolves Part II is up there. The Mavs performance is up there. But given the quality of the opponent, Indiana’s strengths and the Thunder’s subsequent start-to-finish smackdown, you have to rank this at the top of the list.
  • The key to the game was a little known game within the game. It was Kevin Durant versus Paul George. There were tons of other things, of course, that enabled the Thunder to pull out this authoritative victory. But that matchup was the most significant. “He’s getting tired of hearing about Paul George,” Kendrick Perkins said of Durant on Saturday when I asked about George. And, as I wrote for Monday’s paper, Durant came out and played like it.
  • Durant typically defers to Russell Westbrook in the first half. Not tonight. Durant was going at George and the Pacers from the start. KD took nine shots in the opening quarter, scored 14 points in the period and added three assists. Rarely did he pass up an opportunity to light up the Pacers.
  • I don’t know if Durant feels threatened by George, views him as the new kid on the block that’s coming for him or just doesn’t care for the dude. Either way, we saw a side of Durant tonight that we rarely see. He took the matchup personal and made it a point to outplay George. Publicly, I’m sure KD would disagree and even deny it. But his play spoke volumes.
  • When Durant checked out of the game for good, with 3:58 to play and the Thunder ahead by 20, he turned to the media seated behind the scorer’s table and shared a piece of his mind. “Write about that” is what I heard him say.
  • After the game, Durant predictably downplayed the matchup. “Anybody who’s guarding me, I take it personal,” Durant said. “Paul George, he’s a great defender. But I feel as though if I get to my spots and I do everything, play hard and forceful, I can score whenever I get the ball. That’s how confident I am in myself. It’s a fun matchup. But it’s all about the team. It’s all about Thunder versus the Pacers. Tonight, we came out here and got a good win.”
  • At halftime, Durant had 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting. George sat on six points on 2-for-7 shooting. The Thunder led by 19. That was pretty much the ball game.
  • George and Durant didn’t cover each other exclusively. At times, Durant was on Lance Stephenson and George was on Thabo Sefolosha. But for a lengthy stretch late in the first quarter to halftime, the two were the primary defender on the other. And the advantage went to Durant.
  • George when asked if Durant is his toughest cover: "It is. It is a tougher matchup. I watch their games, I watch a lot of NBA games. And offensively, KD is most of the times he's scoring in bunches off iso plays and one-on-one plays. And when they play against us, he's moving a lot. He's the screener, he's getting back-screened and he's coming off pin-downs and it's a little different when I'm guarding him and it makes it a tougher cover."
  • Sefolosha did a fantastic job on George. He set the tone in the first half, using his length to contest shots, while also chasing him on screens and locking to him everywhere he went.
  • Perk complemented Sefolosha’s perimeter defense with stellar paint protection, particularly against Roy Hibbert. Everything on the inside was difficult for Hibbert. Rebounds. Catches. Finishes. Perk just made him work for every little thing he got. Probably Perk’s best performance of the season.
  • And Perk is battling a cold. He looked sick as a dog after the game.
  • Perk: “Our theme right now is ‘How can you help your teammate?’ So whatever it means, like, whether a guy cutting hard or setting a screen or doing whatever you need to do; passing the ball on time, making a shot, however you can help a teammate. I think if we keep living by that and just being honest with ourselves and just keep holding each other accountable, I think we can just keep moving forward in a positive way.”
  • Russell Westbrook had his best performance of the season, scoring 26 points with seven boards and 13 assists. He made 11 of 17 shots and all three of his foul shots (which doesn’t seem like a big deal but, really, it is these days). He got off to a great start, scoring six points with four rebounds and four assists in the opening quarter before abusing George Hill from all areas of the floor the rest of the way.
  • Westbrook’s defense tonight was almost as impressive as his offense. Hill scored four points on 2-for-8 shooting. Stephenson (who did sneak backdoor behind Westbrook twice) scored eight points on 4-for-11 shooting. And Westbrook helped Perk out on Hibbert throughout by digging down and deflecting or stealing the ball on Hibbert’s post ups.
  • Perk on Westbrook: “Best game of the season. I thought this was his best performance of the season. I ain’t just talking about his scoring or what he did; close to a triple-double. I was talking about he was all over the place, like, digging, getting back to his man, running people off the 3, jumping in the passing lanes. Like, the little things that I thought he did tonight was just through the roof. And I feel like if he play at that level, we’ll be a pretty tough team to beat.”
  • Funny thing is, Westbrook and Durant haven’t played all that well in the same game. Tonight was the second straight game in which they did, combining to score 62 points on 25 of 40 shooting. They added 17 rebounds and 18 assists. This coming two nights after they combined for 54 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on 19 of 33 shooting. They get it going like this together, the Thunder will be near unstoppable going forward.
  • I can’t stress the last point enough. Westbrook’s “struggles” while he’s shaking off his rust have been a big reason why the starting unit hasn’t been as good as it was last season. If he gets it going, with the way the bench has been a pleasant surprise thus far, it really is going to take the Thunder to heights we perhaps haven’t seen.
  • Brooks on KD and Russ beginning to be in concert more frequently: “They’ve been good for a lot of years, one. And we also have to still look at Russell; this is part of the process. If the month of October is our training camp…he just finished up his first month of playing. So he’s feeling much more comfortable out there. But he’s doing a great job.”
  • Brooks on Westbrook’s playmaking tonight: “This is one of his better games. I mean, 13 assists. And I thought some of the turnovers that he had, he had five but I thought three of them should have been caught for layups. So he could have had a 16-assist game.”
  • Perk keeping it real on the Pacers being on a back-to-back: “It’s the NBA. We got caught on back-to-backs, too. I mean, at the end of the day, they blew San Antonio out. So it ain’t like they had to play a whole fourth quarter.”
  • The Pacers are a tough team. Mentally, physically and from a matchup standpoint. But I really doubt they can beat the Thunder in a playoff series. That, of course, means it would be the Finals, which means Miami wouldn’t be there. And that, to me, would be a dream come true for the Thunder. OKC would have the two best players in a Thunder-Pacers series and a terrific counter for everything Indiana can throw at it. My bet is it would be a competitive series, much like the Thunder-Heat Finals. But the Thunder would find a way to win every game down the stretch.
  • Reggie Jackson torched C.J. Watson. Just lit him up.
  • Something that’s really not talked about is Jackson’s ability to score in bunches. We talk about his driving ability, about his knack for finishing at the rim and about his improving (or inconsistent, depending on the day) shot. But rarely does anybody mention how he’s able to get hot so fast. Tonight, he scored seven second-quarter points in 1 minute, 35 seconds of play. Then, in the fourth quarter, he scored four more in 2 minutes, 2 seconds. That’s 11 of his 15 points tonight produced in 3 minutes, 37 seconds of game time.
  • And more and more, it seems like Jackson is discovering those moments when he can take over with his offense. They seem to come in the first four to five minutes of the second and fourth quarters, obviously because that’s a time when Durant and Westbrook are either out or deferring more than normal while flanking the second unit. “That’s just being aggressive,” Jackson said.
  • Jackson also has made at least one 3-pointer in his last seven games. After making only five of 23 in his first 12 games, Jackson is now 8 of 18 in his last seven games. The difference? “I guess you could say more confidence, less caring,” he explained. “I was putting so much pressure on myself, understanding that I worked so hard this summer that I expected every shot to go in. And when they didn’t, I couldn’t just let go of a shot. Now, if it doesn’t go in, who cares? You got to move on to the next play. And you got to be aggressive and understand that you’re going to get your opportunities. And the guys in here trust me to put them up, so when I have my opportunity, I just shoot it with no care at all. Just confidence that it’s going to go in. And, hopefully, if it does, good. If it doesn’t, oh well. I’ll probably get another crack at it. That’s just how I’ve been approaching it lately.”
  • Hey, Perry Jones III played tonight. Everybody’s a winner.
  • By far the best moment of the night was when Perk pump faked a jumper as his defender dared him to shoot and caused 18,203 to let out a collective gasp. Perk pumped again, pushing his home fans to near heart attacks. Then, finally, Perk let it fly from 15 feet…And it rattled it. When it did with 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Perk celebrated as he typically does while transitioning back on D. Meanwhile, he nearly got a standing ovation from the Thunder faithful. Classic.
  • The award for most awkward moment of the night goes to the PA guy for not muting his microphone and rather than informing the crowd who a foul was on he ultimately asked 18,203 “on who?” Don’t worry, PA guy. I’m sure no one but me noticed.
  • Up next: at Atlanta on Tuesday.

-DM-

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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