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Thunder notebook nuggets: The response OKC needed

by Darnell Mayberry Published: March 18, 2014

Nice bounce-back win by the Thunder…

  • The Thunder responded. That was the story of the game. The Thunder responded well to an embarrassing home loss one night earlier and to a fourth-quarter rally by the Bulls that threatened to end in the same result tonight.
  • Chicago is far from the offensive machine Dallas can be. Still, for the Thunder to hold the Bulls to 24 fewer points, and on the road, and on the second night of a back-to-back, was impressive. It illustrated the Thunder’s commitment to defense tonight.
  • The Thunder held the Bulls to 34.5 percent shooting. The opponent low this season is 34 percent, set by Philadelphia on March 4.
  • A 16-1 run in the fourth quarter was the difference. It turned a one-point lead into a 16-point advantage. But it was the defense that did it. Over that stretch, OKC held Chicago to 0-for-11 shooting with three critical turnovers. The Bulls missed some open looks. But the Thunder’s defense had a lot to do with it. The Thunder shut off the paint and essentially dared the Bulls to take outside shots. Not all of it was by design. Some of the open looks were breakdowns. But either way, the Bulls couldn’t make the Thunder pay from beyond the arc. They missed five 3-pointers during that decisive stretch and six in the final period. Chicago’s other five misses during that 16-1 run came within 10 feet and stemmed from the Thunder swarming to the ball when the Bulls did get inside the paint.
  • Chicago didn’t score for 6 1/2 minutes.
  • “You give yourself a chance when you play defense like that,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
  • Offensively, the Thunder’s game-changing run was spurred by smart decisions and crisp ball movement. Ten of the Thunder’s 16 points in that stretch were assisted. Nick Collison fired a pass to Derek Fisher for a 3-pointer, Fisher found Serge Ibaka for an uncontested dunk, Russell Westbrook did the same for Kevin Durant and Westbrook capped the run with a drive-and-kick to Ibaka for a corner 3 that put OKC ahead 92-76 with 3:14 left to play.
  • Durant: “It definitely takes mental toughness, especially on the road. We wanted to stay poised, knowing that this game is about runs and they made theirs at the end of the second and also in that fourth. We just stayed with it, coach drew up some good plays and we were able to execute.”
  • Durant scored a game-high 35 points, his 32nd straight game with at least 25 points. He’s now second all-time behind Michael Jordan for consecutive games in one season with at least 25 points. Jordan did it 40 straight times.
  • Durant on the scoring streak: “I just go out there and play, have fun and play to win. If all that stuff comes with it then that’s cool. But I have bigger goals in mind.”
  • After a night’s rest, Westbrook scored 17 points with nine rebounds and nine assists. He made just five of 14 shots but if you’re looking at that and judging him you’re just being nit-picky. He was again terrific. He did whatever his team needed him to do. He came out trying to set up teammates and get them going. When the Thunder started getting pounded on the boards, Westbrook started rebounding. And when his team needed him to score, he scored.
  • It was almost like Westbrook sensed that his rebounding was needed. Nobody else was doing it so he took it upon himself to do it. Chicago had four offensive rebounds in the first quarter and could have had more had it not been for bobbled balls or getting stripped. “I see how the game is going,” Westbrook explained. “I kind of got to read (it) and see how the flow of the game is going, and I saw that they kept getting the long rebounds. My job is to get all those and to be able to push the break.”
  • Nobody bit when asked more about why Westbrook played tonight and not Sunday night.
  • Brooks: “We just have to pick one of them. And looking at the schedule, there’s a few things, actually more than a few things, that we look at and factor in. I don’t really want to get into the details of it. But you have to pick one of them. He’s going to play in back-to-backs the one game.”
  • Westbrook: “All I can tell you is it’s a decision that we made as a group and that we stuck to.”
  • Westbrook on why it’s important he takes this approach on back-to-backs: “It’s important for me to make sure my health is OK. How long it’s going to last, I’m not sure. For now, all I can do is just go day by day and figure out what I’m going to do next.”
  • Durant banged his knee into Joakim Noah a minute and a half into the game when Noah set a high screen. Durant seemed to be in a good deal of discomfort but shook it off.
  • Brooks started Steven Adams on Carlos Boozer and Ibaka on Noah. I thought that was a great move. I had major concerns about Adams being able to contend with Noah, especially with the way he’s been playing lately.
  • I might have liked it more if Brooks started Collison in place of Adams. I asked Brooks if he was tempted to and he said no. Said he’s trying to keep Collison’s minutes down. I still don’t understand why that is such a big deal, though.
  • The Thunder desperately needed Adams’ rebounding presence in that first quarter. He provided it a bit in the third. It’s extremely impressive watching the way he gobbles up rebounds and makes the ball look so small when he snatches it with two hands.
  • Four minutes into the game, a fan seated in the lower bowl shouted to KD, ‘Kevin, I saw Thunderstruck. It was not good!” With play stopped, Durant threw his hands up. Then he looked over at the fan. He smiled and shrugged again.
  • Back to Westbrook’s early playmaking. He set up Andre Roberson in the corner for a wide open 3. Roberson missed. He then set up Roberson in the lane for a layup. Roberson was stripped. He then set up Adams in the lane for a layup. Adams bobbled the ball. Three possessions that Westbrook delivered the ball on time and on target only to see each one end as empty possessions. Yet soon after that a reporter tonight had the nerve to say to me after a Westbrook jumper, ‘Does he ever see anyone on the court?” Reputations, man. Reputations.
  • Noah is a fantastic backdoor passer.
  • The bench responded (there’s that word again) well tonight after laying an egg last night. Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler were the catalysts who provided scoring punch. But Collison was big on defense, picking off passes and preventing easy looks from in close, and Fisher hit a big 3 to stop Chicago’s short lived fourth-quarter run and spark the Thunder’s.
  • Brooks on the bench: “They impacted the game. I told the guys at halftime, there’s a few players in there that didn’t have good offensive moments. But that didn’t matter because they were impacting the game and playing inspired defensive basketball. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about inspiring your team on the defensive end and figuring out a way to score together. I thought they did that throughout the game, especially the second unit. I thought the second unit did a good job of just playing aggressive.”
  • You want to play for Brooks? Inspire your team. Here’s what he said about Noah before the game. “He’s playing as well as any big in the league. He has a great ability to inspire his team. And you can’t put a number on that. There’s no stat that tells you he’s a 63 percent inspirer. He inspires his team every night, and that’s a great trait to have.”
  • Brooks giving it up to Jackson tonight: “Reggie was good on the ball, as well as he’s been all year. This was one of his better defensive games. He didn’t shoot the ball well, which, that has no impact on how we play. The way he defended tonight was really good.”
  • The United Center played Sweet Caroline early in the third. Something about being in Chicago, and on St. Patty’s Day of all nights, made me think it’d be a hit. Not so much. Didn’t go over so well with the crowd participation on the “bumph, bumph, bumph!” Oh well.
  • Most random celebrity I’ve seen at an NBA game: Lorde. You know, the girl who’ll never be royal. That chick blew up with that cut. She was sitting in a suite tonight.
  • Up next: at Cleveland on Thursday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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