The Thunder’s 106-105 overtime victory over the Wizards was a wild night at the ‘Peake. A thrilling comeback. Lots of good signs for the future. Lots of troubling signs for the near future. Here’s what I saw:
* The most interesting part of this game, other than the comeback, was Scotty Brooks’ rotations. He went super sized and super small.
Super sized: With 9:45 left in the game, Kevin Durant replaced Jeremy Lamb. That meant the Thunder lineup was 6-foot-10 Durant, 7-foot Steven Adams, 6-10 Serge Ibaka, 6-11 Perry Jones and 6-4 Reggie Jackson. With 8:19 left, 6-3 Russell Westbrook replaced Jackson. Not until 5:55 remained did Thabo Sefolosha replace Adams. Which means that for 3:50, the Thunder played with only one player shorter than 6-foot-10.
It didn’t work out particularly well. When Durant returned, Martell Webster made a technical foul shot to give the Wiz a 78-71 lead. When Thabo returned to give the lineup a little more normalcy, the Thunder trailed 85-76. So Washington outscored the Thunder by two.
Small ball: The final 10:05 of the game, including five minutes of overtime, Brooks went small. Ibaka was the center. Durant was the power forward (having, I guess, moved over from shooting guard). Jackson and Sefolosha were on the court. Westbrook played until getting ejected with 3:19 left in regulation, at which point he was replaced by Lamb.
With Westbrook in 1:46 of that small lineup, the Thunder outscored the Wizards 6-5. Over the 8:19 with Lamb in the small lineup, OKC outscored Washington 24-13.
The big ball is fun to think about. But small ball works in the NBA. Not that small ball is an adequate description. There is nothing small about a lineup of Ibaka, Sefolosha and Durant. Even Jackson and Lamb have long arms.
* Here’s an interesting twist to the small ball. The Thunder switched defensively on every screen. In other words, every Boomer was OK to cover any Wizard. That’s how you got Marcin Gortat on the low block, guarded by Sefolosha.
In those final 10:05, the Wizards made seven of 17 shots. That’s not bad. Not bad at all, in crunch time. And the defense early in overtime was fantastic. Washington’s first three possessions: John Wall traveling violation, when the Thunder defense ran at him; Bradley Beal 22-foot airball; Martell Webster airballed 3-pointer.
And of course, the primary reason you go small, your offense soars. In those final 10:05, the Thunder made 12 of 18 shots and scored on 14 of 20 possessions. In regulation, the Thunder scored on nine of its last 10 possessions. The only stop for the Wiz? The offensive foul call on Westbrook that led to the confrontation that got both he and Nene their second technical foul and ejection.
Then the Thunder scored on its first two possessions of overtime. So that’s 11 of 12 possessions after going small.
* So much going on in this game, Durant’s heroics almost were overshadowed. The straightaway 3-pointer with 13.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 96, a 21-foot basket to give the Thunder a 100-96 lead in overtime and the play of the game — Durant block of Trevor Ariza’s outside shot, then scramble and breakaway that led to Ariza fouling Durant to prevent a dunk. Durant’s two foul shots with 40.7 seconds gave OKC that 106-105 lead. Durant’s game-tying 3-pointer was his 12th career game-tying shot in the final 24 seconds of a game, the most in the NBA since the start of the 2007-08 season.
* The game was the Thunder’s best rally of the OKC era. The first Thunder game in which it overcame a 12-point fourth quarter deficit and a 10-point deficit with less than four minutes left in regulation.
“You never feel like it’s over when you got a guy named Kevin Durant on the other side,” said Washington’s John Wall. “We knew we were playing great defense, but he’s known for making tough shots. Look at the shot he made just before overtime. He made a tough shot with Trevor right in his face.”
* Bradley Beal completely torched the Thunder, with 34 points, 13 of 23 shots and six of eight 3-pointers. But the Thunder did a good job with Wall, who scored 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Wall didn’t make a basket until 1:10 remained in the second quarter.
* Ibaka was a monster. Two follow shots for baskets down the stretch, both when OKC trailed by three. Don’t get those rebounds, and the Thunder is in trouble. Ibaka has had better statistical nights than 25 points and 12 rebounds; he’s shot better than 11-of-18. But the combination of solid scoring and rebounding dominance, hard to imagine a better Ibaka night.
* Westbrook had his second straight bad game (4-of-16, 13 points, four assists and five turnovers, after a similar game at Detroit). But who cares? It’s just good to see Westbrook back, creating havoc. With that said, Westbrook has to settle down with the confrontations. Clearly, Nene was trying to get under Westbrook’s skin and was successful. Veteran move.
* I went to the arena determined to write about Steven Adams and his collision course with the Basketball Hall of Fame. I’m still excited, but Adams’ numbers in 19:34 — one point, 0-of-3 shooting, two rebounds, two blocked shots, one turnover. Kendrick Perkins’ numbers in 19:16 — one point, 0-of-3 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, one turnover.
* Despite the clutch play of Lamb, Jackson and Perry Jones, the Thunder B Team took a step back. Adams, Lamb, Jackson and Jones played with Durant the final 2:24 of the first quarter and outscored the Wiz 5-2.
Then a full B Team of Adams, Jones, Derek Fisher, Jackson and Lamb started the second quarter and played 1:47. They got outscored 3-0. Then Ibaka replaced Jones, and the offensive futility continued. Durant and Westbrook returned at 7:23, and during that 2:50, OKC outscored the Wizards 3-1,
The B Team was playing largely against Washington reserves, but still, that’s good defense. With one or no starters on the floor during that stretch of 6:24, the Wiz scored just six points. But the Thunder scored just eight. And even after Durant and Westbrook returned, the Thunder never got out of its offensive funk. OKC scored just 10 second-quarter points and made just three shots — and one of them was a Lamb breakaway off a steal.
* All in all, not a good performance. But better to win than to lose. “We started off the game relaxed like we were supposed to win this game as if they were just going to lie down,” Durant said. “We can’t come out like that. But I’m so proud of Lamb, Reggie, Serge and Perry Jones … those guys came through and made some huge plays for us, and they were able to get us back in the game, which set me up for the shot that took us into overtime. They played inspired basketball for everybody, and those guys really won the game for us.”
* With the Thunder down three in the final 30 seconds of regulation, the Thunder went to Durant one-on-one. But with the Thunder up one in the final 25 seconds of overtime, the Thunder put the ball in Jackson’s hands. He penetrated and dished to Lamb, who missed a corner jumpshot with five seconds left.
Brooks said Durant thought the best way for him to get open in the overtime possession was for Jackson to have the ball. Quite an endorsement.