This was the Thunder’s best defensive game since the All-Star break, although that’s not saying much. The Bobcats aren’t the ’62 Celtics. But the big lineup certainly offers some intriguing potential. With Durant, Ibaka, Jones and Adams on the court, arms seem to go in every direction, in the way of passing lanes and the backboard. So if Durant and Jones can stay in front of smaller, quicker players — and they mostly did — this group could at least cause some problems.
“We all get out and run the floor,” Jones said. “We can all defend. I don’t really think there’s a minus at all. We’re all quick on our feet.”
Don’t misunderstand. The Thunder will miss Thabo. You don’t lose your best perimeter defender and not pay the price. But Brooks has often gone down the stretch without Sefolosha. So it wasn’t out of the ordinary when the Thunder, leading 96-89 with 7:27 left, went with a lineup of Durant, Ibaka, Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher.
Over the next 41/2 minutes, the Thunder outscored Charlotte 16-3 to blow open the game. Fisher had two of his four steals, and the Thunder finally slowed Al Jefferson, who took advantage of Perkins’ absence and scored 25 points. After Jefferson’s hook shot brought the Bobcats within 98-92 with 5:47 left, he didn’t get another shot, as Ibaka played tough and the defense stiffened on passes from the perimeter.
“That’s the versatility we have,” Brooks said. “We can play small, big, super small … Kevin gives us the flexibility there, because he can guard multiple positions. Our defense was good in that fourth quarter.”
And the start was fine. With a patchwork lineup, that will have to do.