Well, they can’t all be works of art…
* This game was uuuuuuuuugaaaalllly.
* The first half was about as poor a half as you will ever see OKC play. The exciting, fast-paced, high-flying offense that the Thunder so often treats us to was nowhere to be found. The highlight of the first half came a minute and 21 seconds in, on a running lob pass from Kendrick Perkins to Serge Ibaka. With the exception of a nice transition dunk from Jeremy Lamb, it was downhill from there.
* At halftime, we were all tied at 40. The Bucks were shooting 37 percent. The Thunder was shooting 31.3 percent. The teams were a combined 4-for-19 from 3-point range.
* “It wasn’t pretty offensively. We didn’t make shots,” said Kevin Durant. “But defensively we were really good, I think.”
* The Thunder finally found its rhythm in the third quarter. OKC made 11 of 16 shots, scored 32 points, led by Durant and Westbrook’s combined 21 points, and finally began to pull away from a Bucks team that had no business even being in this ballgame.
* But the fourth quarter was the key. The Thunder hounded the Bucks into four turnovers and five missed shots on their first nine possessions. It turned a seven-point lead after three quarters into a 12-point advantage.
* “We talk about starting quarters with a mindset of don’t be the one to get scored on, and we did that throughout the game,” Brooks said. “But I thought that fourth quarter really gave us a chance to extend the lead.”
* The Bucks ultimately missed 14 of 18 shots in the final period and turned it over five times.
* All jokes aside, we saw tonight what makes the Thunder so dangerous. Two nights after playing a shootout (and losing only after being on the wrong end of a buzzer beater), the Thunder stood tall in a defensive slugfest and survived. Granted, it was against the Bucks. But we’ve seen it against Memphis and San Antonio, too. This team’s versatility, its ability to win multiple ways, is a real, real strength.
* “I think it shows the identity of our team,” Westbrook said. “It shows the growth in our team. We got a lot of younger guys, but they know the staple of this team and what we need to do to win.”
* “That’s the sign of good teams in this league and good players,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “If your shot doesn’t fall, that doesn’t mean your game should fall.”
* Bucks were without starting small forward Caron Butler (sprained shoulder), starting center Larry Sanders (thumb surgery), new point guard Brandon Knight (hamstring) and reserve forward Ersan Ilyasova (sprained ankle).
* Ibaka was again dominant. He finished with 15 points and 20 rebounds, tying his career high. In his last six games, Ibaka is averaging 18 points and 11.5 rebounds.
* Brooks: “Serge’s performance was outstanding, the way he impacted the paint with his blocks, with his altering shots and his rebounds. I thought his 15 and 20 was one of his best games.”
* I mentioned this after the last game. I’m really starting to look at Ibaka as an All-Star. His numbers speak for themselves. It’s just a question of whether he can keep them up. That requires consistency. “That’s what makes you a very good pro is the consistency,” Brooks said. “Anybody can have a good night.”
* Gonna be interesting to see whether Ibaka has figured out how to be consistent.
* As Westbrook and Durant told me, Ibaka is succeeding by keeping it simple and doing the little things. That suggests he can keep it up. I asked him about that approach after the game tonight. “When you have Russ and Kevin, two players already that need the ball every time, we cannot have three or four players do the same,” he said. “For the team, we need players that can do things differently. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”
* Ibaka on which one he like more, points or rebounds: “I like both. Because it helps Kevin and Russ on offense, too. It helps my teammates when they struggle on offense. It’s good to have a guy like me, Reggie, Thabo, Jeremy, Perk, whatever, Steven, some option when they struggle. Because not every night they’re going to score 30 points.”
* I didn’t expect him to say much on the topic, but I asked Ibaka anyway about his potential to make the All-Star team this year. Not surprisingly, he deflected the pointed question about a personal achievement and said it’s not his focus. “If I make All-Star, it’s great, but I’m not concerned about All-Star,” he said. “My mentality is to just keep playing great and my team can win.”
* Thabo Sefolosha missed this one with flu-like symptoms.
* Rookie Andre Roberson started in Sefolosha’s place. Roberson scored two points with one rebound, those stats coming on a pretty tip-in off a KD miss. His biggest contribution was some solid and steady defense on O.J. Mayo, who he frustrated to the point he picked up a technical foul after one series.
* Brooks was going to start Lamb. Then he had a change of heart and went with Roberson, a move I had to applaud (not literally). It would have been easy, expected even, for Brooks to insert Lamb. But he kept his bench intact by going with Roberson, and he showed trust in a rookie who, prior to tonight, had appeared in only two games and played just 11 minutes.
* Brooks called Derek Fisher the unsung hero tonight. “He didn’t score a point, but he impacted the game,” Brooks said. “And I told the guys after the game, ‘That’s a classic example of how you play. You play with your heart every possession and good things will happen.’ He scored zero points, but his man did not score.”
* As ugly as the offense was for much of tonight, the Thunder had much better ball security. Just 11 turnovers. That’s a season low.
* Reggie Jackson had the floater working tonight. Love that shot.
* Jackson also scored five straight points to start the fourth quarter, helping the Thunder build its 12-point lead. He started the period with Fisher, Lamb, Nick Collison and Steven Adams. The B Team. And he was in complete control of it. He owned it. Right up until Brooks brought Durant back a minute and a half into the quarter.
* Seeing Jackson run that second unit, at that stage in the game, got me thinking. Could that be his time? Could Brooks turn over the team to Jackson in that window and let him do his thing? It’s the time in the game that Brooks finally let Harden have in his final season, and for a moment tonight, Jackson looked like he could take control in that window much like Harden did. Different styles but same idea. Wonder how long until we see that?
* Durant’s take: “Just let him be Reggie Jackson We don’t want people to think of him as James Harden. It’s two different players, two different positions. Just let him be Reggie Jackson. He came out and was aggressive. That’s what we need him to do. We don’t want him to overthink it. He’s the point guard, and he’s trying to figure out when to be aggressive to score and when to be aggressive to pass. He’s still learning just like everybody else. Tonight, he did a great job for us.”
* Reggie’s take: “I’m just trying to be aggressive. Just trying to find a way to get to the line. I still only got there once tonight. But I’m just trying to be aggressive and attack downhill. I know I can cause havoc in the paint. Our guys are doing a great job setting screens and allowing me to attack downhill and then just make plays from there.”
* Up next. Denver on Monday