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Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant's big night & heart doctors

by Berry Tramel Published: January 22, 2014

The Thunder beat the Portlands 105-97 Tuesday night in a rousing game that’s worthy of recollection. So here goes.

* My brother called me Wednesday morning. Said this amazing run by Kevin Durant reminds him of only one other stretch of NBA play: Dirk Nowitzki in the 2011 playoffs.

So I checked. Durant has three straight games of at least 60 percent shooting and 30 points: 19 of 28 for 54 points against Golden State, 10 of 15 for 30 points against Sacramento and 17 of 25 for 46 points against San Antonio.

Nowitzki had four such games in the 2011 playoffs, though certainly not in a row. Dirk went 11 of 17 for 33 points in Game 6 against Portland, 12 of 19 for 32 points in Game 3 against the Lakers, 12 of 15 for 48 points in Game 1 against the Thunder and 12 of 20 for 40 points in Game 4 against the Thunder.

* When Kendrick Perkins took that baseline jumper, the Thunder up 97-95, less than two minutes left in the game, I was yelling “no, no, no” along with everyone else in the crowd. But my motives were much less pure. I was just thinking that if Perk missed, how I was going to have to deal with it on the radio with Jim Traber today.

* I did feel better, though, when before tipoff I came out into the arena and saw my heart specialist sitting on the front row. If Perk is going to take a crunch-time jumper, we need all the heart doctors we can get in the building.

* My favorite referees in the league are Joey Crawford and Tom Washington. I met them at our Memphis hotel during the 2013 playoffs, and they were swell guys.

But I’ve got three to add to the club. Jason Phillips, Leroy Richardson and Nick Buchert. They called the OKC-Portland game, and you can’t believe what a treat it was.

Twenty-six total fouls called. Only nine non-steal turnovers. Think about that. That’s just 35 stoppages of play by a whistle. Less than one per minute.

No foul shots in the final 3:45 of the game. When’s the last tight NBA game you saw with no foul shots in the final 3:45? “That’s what we all want, all our bigs,” Perkins said. “I know Steven (Adams) and myself, we pray for games like that, with no whistles. Do whatever you want. Grab a couple of calf muscles. I’m just joking. But you know, we like it that way.”

But here’s the thing. The game didn’t strike me as overly rough. Didn’t seem anymore physical than other games. Just a good game with a great flow. Time of game: 2:05.

* Nicolas Batum is an excellent player. He’s averaging 13.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game. He shut down Durant in the second half of the New Year’s Eve game. But Batum paid the price Tuesday. Completely torched by Durant and totally invisible on offense — three points on 1-of-4 shooting, five rebounds, two assists.

When you get outscored 46-3 at one position, it’s hard to make up the deficit.

* Heck, just for fun, let’s look at the scoring matchups by position. I’ve never done this before, and it’s totally skewed, because people play multiple positions, but this is an artistic endeavor, not a scientific study.

Point guard: Thunder 25, Blazers 27. Now, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher played quite a bit together, and so did Damian Lilliard and Mo Williams. Jackson and Fisher combined for 56 minutes, Lilliard and Williams for almost 62. Both tandems combined for 25 shots. So for Jackson and Fish to almost equal the Blazers’ ascending point guard star and sixth man was a hidden nugget for OKC.

Shooting guard: Thabo Sefolosha and Jeremy Lamb combined for 14 points, Wes Matthews and C.J. McCollum combined for 26 points. Thabo and Lamb were efficient in their combined 51 minutes, making six of 13 shots. But Matthews and McCollum were even better in their almost 48 minutes, combining for nine of 17 shots.

Center: Perkins and Adams combined for eight points in 44 minutes, on 4-of-7 shooting. Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland combined for 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

Power forward: Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined for 12 points  in 51 minutes, on 5-of-17 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge and Thomas Robinson combined 29 points in 48 minutes on 12-of-27 shooting.

Wing forward: Neither team really used a prototype backup for Durant or Batum.

* Durant’s numbers are always fun to play with. Like this. Shooting by quarters — 6-of-8, 2-of-3, 4-of-8, 5-of-6. Durant’s only 3-point miss came in the first quarter; he finished 6-of-7, so he’s on a run of six straight made 3-pointers.

* We often critique Scotty Brooks for his rotation decisions. Not often do we say good job. But Tuesday night, good job. Foreman Scotty seemed to push all the right decisions. Even down to sitting Durant much longer than usual in the second quarter.

Durant was on the bench to start the second quarter. The Thunder trailed 27-21. But Durant didn’t return until 4:40 left in the half, by which OKC trailed 46-36. In Brooks’ defense, he had Durant (and Ibaka) ready to check in more than a minute earlier, but the clock never stopped.

Still, that kind of rest is necessary for Durant to stay fresh. Both in this game and the season’s duration. Here’s what a fresh Durant did. In that final 4:40, Durant had five points and helped key a rally that momentarily gave OKC the lead and go into halftime down just 52-51.

And Brooks did something I really liked. Down the stretch, he went with his starting five. Which he hardly ever does. But with 4:57 left, Sefolosha returned, replacing Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder trailed 93-88 at the time. And went on a 17-2 run to put away the game.

* I wrote about the defense of Sefolosha and Perkins for the Wednesday Oklahoman, which you can read here. No reason to rehash. But a couple of extra things about my favorite player and Perk.

Perkins is playing as well as he ever has for the Thunder. His defense the last few games has been startling effective. Prompted Aldridge into missing his final seven shots. Bothered DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento into a 6-of-17 shooting game. Held Dwight Howard to 5-of-13 shooting. So his defense has been top notch. And Perk’s rebounding is way up: the last six games, he’s got eight, six, 12, eight, four, eight.

Meanwhile, has Thabo found his shooting touch? He’s shooting just 31.1 percent from 3-point range this season, but Thabo is 4-of-5 the last three games.

* The knock on Portland is its lack of depth. Great starting lineup, but shaky bench. Mo Williams was good early for Portland, but otherwise, the Blazers didn’t get much from reserves.

Meanwhile, the Thunder has found a way to keep its bench productive, even with Jackson leaving his super sub role and taking over at point guard for the injured Russell Westbrook.

OKC’s bench: a combined +2 in plus/minus. Portland’s bench: a combined -9. That’s not actually a huge difference when spread over four players, but it also shows in minutes played. Portland’s bench: almost 64 minutes. OKC’s bench: almost 75 minutes. The Thunder starters were more rested.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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