CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Perhaps the Thunder’s second unit has been examined in the wrong light.
Rather than asking how many points OKC reserves can offer, the focus should be on what the second unit brings defensively.
This certainly came to light during a 21-0 run in against the Charlotte Bobcats before a crowd of 18,870 at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday night.
Thunder reserves scored the first 19 points of the second quarter (and the last two points of the first quarter), leading to a methodical 116-94 victory during which OKC starting five was able to rest on the bench the entire fourth quarter.
The victory was the Thunder’s fourth straight and seventh in its last eight starts. It came the night after a 95-94 survival against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, after which OKC arrived in Charlotte at approximately 3:15 a.m.
“As a team, it was important for our second group to come out and be effective tonight,” said recently acquired 38-year-old reserve guard Derek Fisher, who shot 5 for 6 from the field and had 13 points, three rebounds and three assists in just 14 minutes. “Last night, we got a tough win and got in late, so these are the types of team wins that you have to have. I thought everybody in the second group was ready to play when they got on the floor.”
As for the woeful Bobcats, perhaps the Thunder is partially to blame for their abysmal season.
Charlotte had a 7-5 record when it visited Chesapeake Energy Arena on Nov. 26, when OKC delivered at 114-69 thrashing.
The Bobcats have gone 6-43 (.122) since that night. Friday was their ninth straight loss and 17th in the last 19 games.
“At one point in the second quarter, we looked up and we were down 18,” said guard Gerald Henderson, who led Charlotte with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. “We just couldn’t stop them from scoring. That’s a well-oiled machine there.”
OKC actually started out a bit sluggish, likely fatigued from the previous night’s work, but quickly pulled away thanks to a second unit that has been scrutinized since the departure of NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden.
With the loss of the explosive Harden, Thunder reserves have always been evaluated on points scored rather than points allowed. Perhaps all that should change.
“I thought defensively that second quarter was really good,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn’t start the game off like we normally would, but the second unit came in and picked it up. Our guys did a better job of locking in and playing defense.”
Reggie Jackson directed with reserves with nine points, five assists and three rebounds, while center Hasheem Thabeet had eight points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and a steal.
The Thunder took the lead for good with the first bucket of the second quarter and led by as many as 29.
Because of maintaining a comfortable lead, Brooks once again was able to rest his starters the entire fourth quarter.
“I think it is always important to rest your starters, if you have a chance,” Brooks said. “You don’t go into a game thinking that way because this is such a competitive league, but it was nice to have that opportunity tonight.”
Kevin Durant led OKC with 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds while playing 23:46. Fisher and Thabo Sefolsoha had 13 points and each shot 3 for 3 on 3-pointers. Serge Ibaka had 12 points (eight in the first quarter), seven rebounds and two blocks, while Kevin Martin and Russell Westbrook scored 11 each.
“It was a good game for us,” Durant said. “We moved the ball well and the second unit played well. The first unit started off slow, but after our second unit came in, we played up to their level, and in the third quarter we did a great job.”