On one side was Russell Westbrook, the three-time All-Star and consensus top-15 player in the league.
On the other was Tony Parker, the three-time NBA champion and likely future Hall of Famer.
But forget that matchup. In a game of stars, Reggie Jackson was the best point guard on the court.
Come to think of it, he was probably the best player, matching a career-high with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, icing the Thunder’s big win over 13-1 San Antonio with 14 points in a brilliant fourth quarter.
In this week’s Thunder film study, let’s take a closer look at his brilliant offensive night, tracking all 10 of his made shots in order:
Second Quarter spurt
In Scott Brooks’ current rotation, Jackson is typically handed the reins of the Thunder offense in brief stretches at the start of the second and fourth quarters. Brooks followed the script on this night and Jackson delivered beautifully, scoring nine in a brief spurt in the third and those aformentioned 14 in a fourth quarter that would likely qualify as his best stretch as a pro.
Here’s his first bucket of the night, a smooth drive and velvet finger roll, abusing Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills (which will become a theme on this night):
Flashing the jumper
For Jackson to reach the next level — a potentially elite offensive level, given his unique ability to get to and finish around the rim — he must consistently be able to hit the jumper. It may come with time, it may not. But on this night, he was feeling it from everywhere, including the outside. On back-to-back plays in the second quarter (shown below), he drills a deep no hesitation 3-pointer and then follows it up with a confident 22-foot fadeaway. Great sign:
Eurostep to the rack
This next play has a distinct James Harden feel (and really, so did the entire night). Jackson manuevers past Patty Mills (with ease, again), before slithering through the paint with some nifty left-hand dribbling and an easy finish off the glass.
Fourth Quarter explosion
Jackson opened up the fourth quarter with another beautiful drive, shaking Mills on a crossover and finishing over the long arms of Tiago Splitter. As Scott Brooks said postgame, Jackson has ‘a unique ability to finish around the rim’. Last season, he shot a ridiculous 74 percent at the rim, one of the best in the league among guards, and this year he’s at 64 percent, a clip that remains far above league average. This is just one of a few examples of that on this night:
On the next play, after the Spurs switched on a screen, Jackson was isolated on the perimeter with Boris Diaw, a hefty big man who is not exactly known for his lateral quickness. Jackson smartly identifies the mismatch, shoos away his teammates and skates right by Diaw for a score on the clear-out. Also, check out the lefty finish:
Seconds later, Jackson flies by Patty Mills (who else?) on a nice shot fake from three, before confidently pulling up and splashing it through from about 17 feet. His mid-range jumper has been reliable at times this year, particularly from the top of the key, where he’s 8-of-15. And no one was loving this scoring burst more than KD, who tops this video off with a celebratory dance:
Drive and scoop
My favorite part of this next play (another slithering drive and feathery finish) is Patty Mills’ animated post-layup reaction. He’s been getting torched by Reggie all night and finally had enough, showing obvious frustration and yelling at no one in particular. KD said of Jackson postgame: “Nobody can stay in front of him”. On this night, I think we certainly established that Patty Mills can’t.
Because of Jackson’s brilliant play, Brooks kept the young reserve in for the entire fourth quarter, playing him down the stretch with the Thunder starters. And in the clutch, he had two big buckets. The first came on a floater, which is rapidly becoming one of his favorite and most effective shots, and his final score of the day was a lay-up over Tim Duncan, coming off a nice pass from Russell Westbrook.
In summation, there was both good and bad news for the Thunder on Wednesday night.
The Good News: Reggie Jackson continues to evolve into a dynamite option for OKC off the bench, a viable Sixth Man candidate who can, at times, carry your offense and, as he showed in the fourth quarter, play effectively off the ball and with the stars.
The Bad News: If he keeps playing like this, Jackson could be in for a huge pay day, either here or elsewhere.