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

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: December 30, 2013 at 4:30 am •  Published: December 30, 2013

Only one thing could have made this night better…

  • This game was all about Kevin Durant. His dominance. And his demeanor. His final stat line speaks for itself. But it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. You would have had to see the game to get a true sense of what Durant did here Sunday night. Maybe even had to be in the building. If you missed it, you can’t understand the statement Durant made against the Rockets, or the message he sent to the rest of the league. In his first crack at a conference contender without Russell Westbrook by his side, Durant dialed it up and showed how he can keep his franchise afloat for as long as it’s without its All-Star point guard.
  • Durant dazzled, with scoring, rebounding, passing and defense. On offense, he was efficient and in complete command. Defensively, he was pest, certainly part of the reason Chandler Parsons proclaimed the Thunder’s defense to be improved from last year. But the best part of Durant’s night was his fire. He was as intense as he’s been all season. Only the Pacers, specifically Paul George, had summoned this level of passion out of Durant. Tonight, he supplied it for all 38 minutes.
  • Durant chewed out Perry Jones III after a missed assignment. He harassed an official after he disagreed with a foul call. He stared down Francisco Garcia after a physical second-quarter sequence. He barked at the Rockets bench after splashing in a jumper over James Harden. He woofed at Dwight Howard after a nifty finish at the rim. It all said what Durant refused to afterward. This game meant more to him.
  • I remember speaking with KD at his camp this summer. I asked him about the Western Conference landscape and specifically the Rockets’ acquisition of Howard. He wasn’t having it. Didn’t want to talk about it. He grew a tad testy at the question (there’s video of it somewhere in the archives), and when I followed up later he explained that it’s not about other teams. It’s about the Thunder. That’s where he wanted the focus. Days later, Durant expressed similar sentiments on SportsCenter, coldly shooting down the question from Chris McKendry (who seems like she could be the nicest woman alive). Couple that back story with what unfolded here tonight and the things become clear. Durant was and perhaps still is tired of hearing about the Rockets.
  • Here’s Durant downplaying his approach when asked if it was something special about this game: “It’s something special about the game of basketball. That’s it for me. I never want to take this game for granted. Every time I step on that floor it’s a blessing. So I just want to give it my all, play as hard as I can, have fun with it, no matter who’s out there on the floor playing against us. And tonight it’s just another team. I just want to play my heart out for my guys.”
  • Trying to come at it another way, I then asked Durant about another level he seemed to reach tonight and whether he feels he can tap into that whenever he feels it’s needed. “I’m not one of those guys that can turn it on and turn it off,” he said. “Of course there’s going to be good nights and bad nights. But I just try to keep my intensity at the same level. Offensively, of course, you might have a hot streak here and there. But I just want to keep the same intensity level every time I step on the court and just try to do what I can for my team.
  • The shame of the night. I heard two guys, probably waaaaay up in Loud City somewhere, chanting “M-V-P” for Durant. Just two. And one of them seemed to give up and leave the other hanging at the end. If you’re reading this, you know who you are.
  • When he exited for good, Durant did get a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd. Nice to see Thunder heads appreciated not only the effort KD put forth but also what they had just witnessed.
  • Durant has shot 50 percent or better in nine of his last 13 games.
  • I’ll note here that the Rockets were playing the fourth game in five nights.
  • I’ll note here so freaking what? The Thunder was playing without Westbrook. Which do you think is a bigger hardship?
  • About Durant chewing out PJ3. It happened late in the first quarter. KD was on the bench. But he got up, walked to the scorer’s table and called PJ3 over during a Rockets free-throw attempt, pulling him off the lane between the shots. Durant then said “wake your (blankety blank) up.” PJ3 didn’t appreciate that form of encouragement. But it looked to me like he definitely began hustling more immediately after hearing it. More than anything, I thought it was a non-traditional way of a player setting the tone. The Thunder was ahead by 15 at the time, and Durant, from the bench, was staying on his young players to keep a certain level of play. Jones might not be receptive to that type of tongue-lashing, but it showed Durant’s continued growth as a leader.
  • Durant on the exchange: “I was trying to help him out. I mean, it’s certain ways you talk to your teammates. Sometimes you have to get after them. Sometimes you got to encourage them. And Perry’s one of those guys that, he listens. And he wants to get better. And he’s coachable with everybody. Not just with Scotty and the rest of the staff, but with his teammates as well. So I just tried to help him out and ignite him a little bit and let him know I’m with him. He came out and made some big plays.”
  • Mixed reaction to Harden in the intros. Some cheers. Some boos. Mostly cheers from what I heard.
  • When the game started, the crowd wasn’t all over Harden tonight. Of course the Thunder jumping all over the Rockets and building a 32-point lead helped. But to me, that also was a sign most Thunder heads who attend the games have moved on. Sure, they love him for what he did here and might always have a special place in their hearts for him because of that. But the appreciation for current product seems to have negated the never-ending narrative.
  • This game was all but over in the first six minutes. OKC came out on a 9-0 run, forcing the Rockets to call a timeout. That lead soon swelled to 13-0. Houston missed its first 12 shots and didn’t get its first field goal until Howard nailed a hook with 5:27 to play in the opening period.
  • Kendrick Perkins on the start: “I thought we came out with the right intensity. I knew they was gon’ be kind of tired. I watched their game last night. They wasted a lot of energy against the Pelicans. So I thought we did what we was supposed to do. We came out and we jumped on them early.”
  • I wish everyone could hear how Perk says ‘Pelicans.’
  • Scott Brooks on the start: “We played good defense and they missed some shots. But we played some good defense. You don’t go into games thinking that the team is not going to score for that long of a stretch, but we did play some good defense.”
  • Perk was fantastic on Howard. Durant was fantastic on Parsons. Thabo Sefolosha was fantastic on Harden. Serge Ibaka was fantastic on Terrence Jones. Reggie Jackson was fantastic on Jeremy Lin.
  • I’m not going to be one of those guys that jumps up and says SEE when Perk plays lockdown defense like he did tonight. But you have to give credit where credit is due. And tonight, it’s due. Perk did his think on Dwight, bodying him in the post, bumping him off his spots and contesting everything he threw up short of a jump shot. Howard finished with nine points on 4-for-13 shooting. He got to the line just seven times and had only nine rebounds.
  • Perk: “With me, anytime it’s a guy that is supposedly one of the best low-post scorers on the block, I get excited. I want to see what it’s all about.”
  • Perk was asked after the game if he wishes there were more centers like Howard in the league so he could show what he does best. I thought it was a great point. Many people rag on Perk, but he can’t help the way the league is going and the style of play it has embraced. There just aren’t a ton of guys around anymore for Perk to battle with inside. And when he loses a matchup, it’s magnified much more than when he dominates one like he did tonight.
  • Perk on that sort of catch-22: “I mean, yeah, but at the same time, if it’s not I just got to do a better job on pick-and-roll coverage or something like that. That’s what having a good team is all about, for you to match up with a good team.”
  • Harden has kind of owned Sefolosha since the trade (individually speaking) with the exception of a few duds by Harden. Tonight, Sefolosha got the better of Harden, helping to hold him to eight points on 2-for-9 shooting. Sefolosha downplayed his success when I asked if he’s figuring him out a little bit. He credited the team defense.
  • Sefolosha scored 13 if you’re scoring at home.
  • The only thing that could have made this night better would have been a chant of “Who needs Harden?” breaking out when Omri Casspi stood at the free throw line with 20 seconds left to play. Thunder fans, I think, are too classy for that. Oh well.
  • Harden and Howard combined for 17 points on 6-for-22 shooting.
  • Jeremy Lamb scored a career-high 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting.
  • I noted this during the game and Perk, unsolicited, confirmed my suspicions. Lamb is trying really, really hard on defense. He’s squatting in his stance, furrowing his brow and showing the look of determination when on defense. It’s the only time he shows any expression. The way he tries to fight through screens, body up in the post and latch onto his man is really encouraging.
  • Perk on Lamb: “Jeremy Lamb has impressed me the most as far as with his toughness. I always knew he could score the ball, but he’s starting to get down and dirty a little bit; getting in there and mixing it up on the rebounding. So I think Lambo has impressed me the most as far as just with his his tenacity.”
  • Lambo has definitely become the locker room’s nickname of choice for Lamb.
  • For a career 41 percent shooter, Aaron Brooks give me a strange feeling that every time he throws it up it’s going in. No idea why that is. Brooks made two buzzer-beaters tonight, though, and both of them were deep 3s. The second was from halfcourt after a Not Top 10 worthy play the Thunder had when it struggled to inbound the ball before Lamb coughed it up and the ball squirted to Brooks just beyond halfcourt. The way that sequence played out, you knew Brooks shot was good the whole way.
  • And apparently Brooks has a sky hook. He was 2-for-4 on sky hooks tonight. How do we get Derek Fisher to get one of those before he retires?
  • Thunder players were stat-happy tonight. First, Perk told a PR staffer he had three rebounds instead of two early on. Then Durant, while backpedaling on D after a bad pass to Ibaka, shouted to the scorer’s table “That wasn’t a shot.” Never let anyone tell you these guys don’t care about stats. They absolutely, positively do. In some cases, they’re obsessed with them. Just watch two Thunder players fight over a rebound.
  • Rockets offensive rebounds (11) and and-ones (31 Rockets free throws) were the lone stain on an otherwise stellar defensive effort from the Thunder.
  • Terrific bounce back game from Jackson. He scored 16 points with three boards and eight assists. He made seven of his 12 field goal attempts in 26 minutes. And he didn’t have a turnover. Stark difference from his last three, when he averaged 11.3 points on 23.9 percent shooting.
  • It’s starting to become ridiculous how Jackson’s not getting foul calls on drives to the rim. He probably complains the least of any Thunder player, but maybe it’s time he starts. Flopping would be the alternative. I don’t care how he does it. But he’s got to do something. The refs aren’t respecting him. He didn’t take a single foul shot tonight, and that’s the seventh time that’s happened this season. In 16 December games, Jackson has taken just 33 foul shots. That’s two per game, far fewer than his driving ability deserves. And it’s not just Jackson’s game that it’s hurting. With Westbrook sidelined, it’ll certainly become an obstacle for the Thunder. There’s a lot about Westbrook’s game that the Thunder can’t replace. His free throws might be the most underrated aspect. With Westbrook in the lineup, the Thunder attempted 26.1 foul shots per game, a rate that currently would rank fifth. In five games without Westbrook, the Thunder is averaging 22.8 foul shots, which would currently rank OKC 15th. Everything is tougher without Westbrook on offense. The Thunder doesn’t need trips to the foul line to be one of them.
  • FYI: Brooks will be a guest on NBA TV’s “The Beat” on Monday afternoon. The show airs at 4:30 central and again at 12:30 a.m. central.
  • Up next: Portland on Tuesday.

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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