Scotty Brooks brought back the B Team on Wednesday night.
You remember the B Team. An all-reserve unit that Foreman Scotty inserts to give his Thunder starters first-half rest. Brooks has deployed the B Team often in years past but seldom this season, with a new and thinner bench.
That might change after the Thunder routed the Denver Nuggets 117-97.
The B Team built upon a quick getaway by the starters, turning a 26-16 lead into a 41-22 runaway in the four minutes that ended the first quarter and started the second.
The sudden emergence of DeAndre Liggins as a rotational player — he's averaged almost 20 minutes the last five games, after playing just 34 minutes the first 34 games — has given Brooks a fivesome he is willing to play together.
“It's great,” said starter Thabo Sefolosha. “We've got a team with a lot of new guys. They're getting adjusted to what we're doing defensively and offensively.
“As the season goes along, we're going to be able to rely on those guys a lot more and give some of the main guys some rest.”
On a night when Russell Westbrook had 32 points in only 28 minutes, and Kevin Durant had 20 points on just 12 shots, and Serge Ibaka returned from a two-game layoff to block five Denver shots, the best development was the play of the Thunder bench.
The quintet of Kevin Martin, Nick Collison, Hasheem Thabeet, Reggie Jackson and Liggins scored on seven straight possessions and produced four straight defensive stops.
“That second unit played well when we needed it,” Brooks said. “Liggins, I'm proud of him. He made the team by fighting for everything he's earned. I'm proud he gets out there and competes and has been given some opportunities and has taken advantage of it.”
The bench numbers were impressive. Boomer backups scored 49 points and made 19 of 35 shots. Even taking out Martin's 8-of-12 shooting game, the Thunder reserves made 11 of 23.
Martin had 20 points in 19 minutes. Thabeet had four rebounds and two blocked shots. Jackson had eight points, seven assists and six rebounds in 20 minutes, the most evidence all season that Jackson can be an effective backup to Westbrook.
Even Perry Jones III played well. The rookie from Baylor played the final 131/2 minutes and had six points and three rebounds.
“Those guys are young and still developing,” Brooks said of Liggins, Jones, Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, all of whom have spent time in the Development League this season. “They have to develop in the D-League and in our practices. It's nice to see them get some minutes.”
Thunder backups' struggles this season shouldn't come as a surprise. While the OKC starters have remained steadfast, the bench was dismantled. Only Collison remains from the B Team of last spring. James Harden, Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Daequan Cook all are gone.
Eric Maynor has yet to regain the level of play he established before his January 2012 knee injury.
Thus Durant's and Westbrook's minutes have risen. Durant is averaging 39.4 minutes a game, second in the NBA. Westbrook is averaging a career high 36.1. Both can handle that kind of load, but it's better if they don't have to.
“Our starting five, they need a little break every now and then.” Jackson said. “Can't ride ‘em the whole time.”
The Thunder didn't need to ride Durant and Westbrook the whole time against the Nuggets. The B Team was back.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.