In the Thunder's 110-95 win at New Orleans on Friday, we got our first glimpse of a new substitution pattern Scott Brooks is trying out.
Kevin Durant, who had played the entire first quarter in seven of the first nine games, was subbed out with 3:30 remaining in the opening period. He then returned to start the second quarter alongside the customary bench unit.
Over the 5 minutes, 40 seconds in which Durant played the second quarter prior to Russell Westbrook's return, the Thunder's extended its lead by five. Early this season, that's generally been a stretch of struggle for the Thunder's second unit. With Durant captaining the bench unit Friday, it became a strength.
“I liked it,” Brooks said. “I liked the fact that he gave us a great eight minutes in that first quarter, real high-energy minutes. … And that second quarter was good. It gives us another scorer on the floor, and we're going to mess around with that and see how it works out the next couple of weeks and, who knows, we might stay with it.”
Durant, meanwhile, not only didn't mind, but he also excelled. After six points, five rebounds and three assists in the first quarter, Durant scored 12 points with three rebounds, one assist and two steals in the second period.
“It's an adjustment, but I liked it,” Durant said. “It frees up (Kevin Martin) a little bit more and it frees up me as well. We play off of each other so well because he's a guy that's catch-and-shoot and catch-and-go with the basketball. So it helped us out.”
CLASSY OR TRASHY?
In each of the last two games, the Thunder has been in the middle of on-court (and perhaps even hallway) confrontations.
But Durant said on Saturday that his team isn't doing anything to provoke opponents.
“It wasn't like we were out there talking trash,” Durant said. “We're communicating better on the defensive end. We're just talking to each other. I think we're doing a better job of that. We weren't talking to Memphis. We weren't talking to New Orleans. It was just more of guys competing and being physical. That's just a part of the game. So it wasn't like we were out there trash talking or anything like that, or guys were talking trash to us because we won the West last year. That's over with. We're just communicating better on our end.”
After Kendrick Perkins and Memphis forward Zach Randolph nearly squared off on the court Wednesday, Westbrook and New Orleans guard Greivis Vasquez had to be separated Friday. When the two were slapped with double technical fouls just before heading to their respective locker rooms for halftime, the jawing escalated and saw Hornets coach Monty Williams begin exchanging words with Durant and Perkins.
“When you have guys like Russell and Greivis out there competing like that, things will happen,” Williams said after the game. “We're men. But you also have to be man enough to admit that we do goofy things when we compete. … It's funny, while we were talking, nobody was cussing. I don't cuss anyway. Scotty doesn't. So we were just out there kind of yelling back and forth. Basically they were just kicking our butts.”
Durant said Saturday there were no hard feelings.
“That was just a big misunderstanding,” Durant said. “He thought we said something. We thought they said something. That's over with. I got a lot of respect for Monty Williams, coming from the same area I'm from. … I like what he's doing down there in New Orleans, so it's nothing against them. I'm glad we kind of squashed that.”
Brooks on Friday night's win at New Orleans: “That was the best we played all year, on both ends of the floor, hands down. We played as aggressive defensively as we can possibly play. … There's not one guy that was the guy that did not bring the energy and the effort.”
THUNDER'S NEXT FIVE
SUNDAY: vs. Golden State, 6 p.m. (FSOK) — The Thunder has won six straight over the Warriors, but it hasn't been easy. They've had some high-scoring affairs, and OKC has needed some last-second heroics.
WEDNESDAY: vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN, FSOK) — This will be the only visit of the season for former Oklahoma great Blake Griffin and former NO/OKC Hornets point guard Chris Paul.
FRIDAY: at Boston, 6:30 p.m. (NBA TV, FSOK) — One of the league's oldest rosters goes against one of the league's youngest. Thunder has won four of its last five against Celtics and three straight in Boston.
SATURDAY: at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (FSOK) — The Sixers will still be without the services of center Andrew Bynum, acquired during the offseason from the Lakers. OKC is 6-1 (.857) all-time against Philadelphia.
NOV. 26: vs. Charlotte, 7 p.m. (FSOK) — Bobcats set an NBA record for worst winning percentage in a season last year at .106 (7-59), but they entered their Saturday night game against Memphis with a 5-4 overall record.
By John Rohde