For the final month before the All-Star break, without Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant captured headlines with his fantastic play and his team’s surprising success.
But the Thunder’s impressive late January run was about far more than Durant. He was the catalyst, but the consistent roster-wide contributions helped spur the 10-game win streak and the 15-2 close to the first half.
For the first 11 games after the break – an anemic 5-6 run – that was missing. But of late, it has returned, an impressive four-game win streak culminating in a 117-96 domination of the Nuggets on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant, predictably, was the leading scorer with 27. But on a night where he shot below 50 percent (10-of-21), his team shot above it.
Reggie Jackson had an efficient 16 points and 11 assists, needing only six shots. Steven Adams scored in double-figures for the first time since January. And even Nick Collison dropped in 10, including a corner 3-pointer that drew the loudest ovation of the night.
But Caron Butler shouldered the biggest non-Durant end of the scoring load. In 29 minutes, Butler had his best offensive performance since joining the Thunder, going for 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting.
And nine of those 23 came from behind the arc, with Butler leading an outside shooting barrage from the Thunder’s role players. Durant was 1-of-7 from deep. The rest of the team was 10-of-15.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable every single game,” Durant said of the Thunder’s newest member.
But Butler’s most important offensive contribution on this night – and the most encouraging sign moving forward – was his ability to take advantage of mismatches in the low post.
With so much length and size at rare positions, the Thunder forced the Nuggets to throw smaller defenders at Butler. He exploited it on multiple occasions, dropping in easy short range jumpers.
“He had that post-up working tonight,” Durant said. “They have that smaller guy on him, and he takes advantage. That’s what we need him to do.”
On Monday, the Thunder played with the kind of confidence, effort and balance that allowed them to not only survive, but thrive without Westbrook before the All-Star break.
Nearly everyone that touched the floor had a positive impact.
“I thought our guys did a good job of really locking in and taking care of business from start to finish,” Brooks said.
Durant’s going to get his. And so is Westbrook, when he’s on the court.
But this team turns from dangerous to deadly when the role players do their thing.
Monday night was the latest example. Denver was the helpless victim.