Thunder Rumblings

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Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday's loss to Miami

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: February 21, 2014 at 12:50 am •  Published: February 21, 2014

Can’t say I saw that coming…

  • Just when you thought this was a fair fight, that the Thunder could hang, finally, with the Heat, LeBron James and his crew come to town and serve up a reminder that, despite a 17-point home loss in late January, not much has changed. This is still a nightmare matchup for the Thunder.
  • Beyond that, what do we really know after the two-game series. The answer, in my eyes, is not much. Russell Westbrook played just 24 minutes, all coming tonight in his long-awaited return. The Thunder played over its head in the first meeting, shooting an unsustainable 16-for-27 clip from 3-point range, before coming out tonight and throwing up bricks to the tune of 2-for-20 from deep. Turnovers told the story, too. Miami turned it over 21 times in round one. OKC turned it over 20 times in round two. So in essence, the Thunder won when it played a great game and the Heat played a terrible game, and the Heat won when it played a terrific game and the Thunder played a lousy one. I think it’s really that simple.
  • “We owed ‘em,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh after what went down in the first meeting. “They smacked us pretty good, man.”
  • I figured the Heat would come out on a mission from the moment I heard LeBron’s postgame on-court interview Tuesday at Dallas. He immediately turned his attention to the Thunder and said essentially what Bosh said after the game tonight.
  • When the Thunder announced Westbrook would return tonight, it sunk my bad feeling even deeper. Miami would enter the game on a mission for revenge, while the Thunder would be worried about working in its three-time All-Star. It was a bad mix. It wasn’t the sole reason for what transpired here tonight, but it undoubtedly played a part.
  • I shouldn’t have to say it. Of course Westbrook was rusty. He had missed 27 straight games. But he was explosive and energetic as usual. His rhythm and timing just isn’t there. That was seen on a pull-up bank shot he attempted from just inside the left elbow midway through the first quarter. He missed it and then threw up an awkward lefty follow attempt. But later, with just under 4 1/2 minutes to play in the second quarter, Westbrook soared for an offensive rebound like only he can, showing that the spring in his step hasn’t gone anywhere. He finished the play by dumping it down to Perry Jones III for a hoop.
  • Westbrook finished with 16 points on 4-for-12 shooting. His first bucket was a transition dunk. About that, he said “It was good to really get into transition and get an easy bucket and get the crowd involved and get some energy in the building.”
  • Westbrook will be on a minute restriction of 25 to 26 minutes. He played 24 tonight. The Thunder also could limit Westbrook in back-to-backs as well.
  • Westbrook’s basket was the first bucket of the game. But the fans didn’t sit. They didn’t even sit after the next bucket, a putback flush by Serge Ibaka. You could tell then the crowd was into this one. Felt like a playoff atmosphere. But then LeBron happened.
  • “He was hot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of James, who scored Miami’s first 12 points and 16 in the first quarter. “I think the first 10 points it seemed like were in transition off of our turnovers. They were dunks or layups. So when you give a guy like James a lot of opportunities early, and easy opportunities, the basket becomes even bigger. And he was feeling it offensively.”
  • Could have been something else there, too. “With all this rhetoric going back and forth about not only the teams but the individual matchups, you could tell both (James and Durant) were ready to play,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh. “But LeBron, he really set the tone and came out and put his print on the game early.”
  • Kevin Durant downplayed the game in the days leading up to the matchup and didn’t seem to come out with great energy. I’m not just saying that because he missed shots. He had good looks that rimmed out. But his disposition just didn’t seem to be at the level of LeBron’s. Maybe he was letting the game come to him. I don’t know. But that intensity wasn’t really seen until a stretch in the second quarter.
  • Yes, this game will swing some MVP votes. But not just this game, but also what LeBron has done since the first meeting between these two teams, as well as what he’ll do from here out.
  • Bosh on the MVP race: “We just don’t want one guy, unless it’s our guy, head and shoulders ahead in the race.”
  • About the whole Kendrick Perkins thing. Brook started him tonight and the Thunder got off to a slow start. And a lot of people wanted to blame Brooks and Perk for that. It was misguided frustration. It had little to do with Perk. He committed a foul 25 seconds into the game and had an early turnover. But the Heat’s 18-8 start was about two things: turnovers and LeBron James. OKC turned it over seven times in the first 5 minutes, 20 seconds. Again, Perk had just one of those. And when LeBron exploded out of the gate, the two were too much for the Thunder to overcome.
  • As soon as Perk checked out of the game in the first quarter and the Thunder went small, the Heat outscored OKC 12-5, turning that 10-point lead into a 17-point lead. Some argued that small ball worked because the Thunder closed within seven while Perk was on the bench for the entire second quarter. I’m not saying it didn’t. But I am saying that rally had much more to do with the Thunder getting the turnovers under control, LeBron slowing down, Durant heating up and Westbrook scoring nine straight in less than two minutes to close the quarter.
  • I didn’t blame Brooks one bit for starting Perk in the second half. Again, most did. But as I’ve said in the past, you can always pull the plug if he’s not effective. But sit Perk and he has no chance at being effective. What does Perk bring against Miami, some asked. Interior defense and rebounding, two things that are proven to be some of the biggest problems for Miami. If Perk is on his game, he can do those things and give the Heat trouble. It’s been a while since he has, no doubt. But sit him and you have no way of knowing.
  • The whole Perk “thing” was water under the bridge anyway. He picked up two fouls in the first (the second was one of a ton of bogus calls both ways tonight), and sustained a groin injury early in the third, limiting him to eight minutes tonight. But if you’re scoring at home, the Thunder was outscored by two for the brief time Perk was on the floor in the third quarter. Immediately after he checked out, the Thunder was outscored 12-2. And the same things that plagued the Thunder the first quarter showed up again in that stretch in the third — turnovers and LeBron, not Perk.
  • Somebody on Twitter called me Perk’s PR agent. I prefer to think of myself as someone who watched the game.
  • A much bigger beef I had with Brooks was not starting Perk for the game or the second half. But sticking with PJ3 in place of Perk after Perk’s injury. It was in the same vein as “it worked before so it’ll work again,” only a different angle. A better option, in my opinion, would have been Reggie Jackson. Here’s why. Westbrook’s return is clearly going to eliminate much of Jackson’s minutes and opportunities. But it doesn’t necessarily have to. Brooks went with Perry when he wasn’t needed. Thabo Sefolosha started the second half on LeBron so Perry was just out there. Why not have a more dangerous offensive threat on the floor, especially with Durant struggling and Westbrook finding his rhythm? Durant was on Dwyane Wade anyway, a step down from LeBron but still not great if you’re trying to keep KD out of foul trouble. Meanwhile, PJ3 was on Shane Battier. Why not put Reggie in, put Russ on Wade, Jackson on Chalmers, Durant on Battier, Ibaka on Bosh and Sefolosha (if that’s who you were turning to anyway) on LeBron? Instead, Perry was just kind of out there while Reggie was getting his wings clipped.
  • PJ3 did play a pretty good game. He had eight points and five rebounds and took the challenge against the two-time defending champs once again.
  • I thought the Thunder’s second unit would have a huge advantage over Miami’s. Then Heat coach Erik Spoelstra started Bosh and Wade with his reserves for the start of the second quarter and that didn’t turn out so well.
  • LeBron just makes it look too easy. He ain’t fair.
  • Perk’s groin injury looked pretty bad as he was limping to the locker room. It’s possible Steven Adams might have to start Sunday against the Clippers.
  • LeBron, Bosh and Wade scored the same amount of points (81) as the Thunder tonight. Not good.
  • Brooks: “It’s obvious I don’t think we played well. Offensively, we were out of sync, turned the ball over too many times, nine turnovers that first quarter. I think the first five or six minutes we had seven. We didn’t have the good rhythm going into this game. One thing I know about our guys is that we’ll get back into the gym tomorrow, bounce back and get ready for the next game.”
  • Up next: Clippers on Sunday.
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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