When you start winning some games (how does FIVE of SIX sound my friends?), it’s not always just about winning the game, but it’s also a little bit about how you win. Well, that’s not entirely true because as long as the Thunder has one more point than the other team when the clock says zero, I’m happy (which was exactly the case tonight).
But OKC had some defensive lapses early, didn’t rebound in the second quarter, gave away a 10-point lead in what seemed like seconds and played a sloppy fourth quarter and at a point sometime in the fourth, I told myself, “Win or lose, I’m not that thrilled about this game.” But then the Thunder made a slew of big plays down the stretch and edged out Sacramento 99-98 and let me tell you, I really don’t care about semi-lackluster first 43 minutes. The last five were excellent.
The Kings took a 92-91 lead on a Rashad McCants free throw with 4:56 left in the game after the two teams had exchanged buckets on the last four possessions. And this game kind of had the feeling of, “Here we go, let’s watch OKC blow this down the stretch.” But the Thunder came up with big stop after big stop holding the game at one. Nenad Krstic stopped Spencer Hawes at the rim. Then after Jeff Green turned it over for a second straight possession, Hawes got tagged for a moving pick. Russell Westbrook then missed a little runner in the lane and the Kings’ Will Soloman streaked at the bucket. But Krstic was there again for a monster stop at the rim, denying Soloman. OKC couldn’t cash in after a McCants steal but AGAIN, the Thunder came up with a stop contesting a Bobby Jackson jumper and securing the rebound.
Finally the Thunder broke through as Earl Watson missed a reverse layup but Krispy Nads was there for put-back to giving OKC the lead for good, 93-92. (Then for good measure, OKC got another stop and Krstic got another offensive rebound and put it in. 95-92.
It was really a crazy sequence of events. It was one of those stretches where the Thunder could have easily been down eight with no chance and relegated to heaving threes, or they could have been up eight cruising to the buzzer. But instead, it came down to the wire and the Thunder made a play or two more than Sacramento and that was the difference.
Tyson Chandler? We don’t need no stinking Tyson Chandler! We’ve got Nenad Krstic! Krispy had a very Chandler-ish line with nine points, 15 rebounds (career high) and three blocks. His jumper wasn’t falling for nothing (3-10 from the field), but he realized there was more to contribute than just his sweet 18-footer. Nick Collison was out with a groin strain and somebody had to step up. And with that sort of being the theme for this team the past two weeks, Krstic stepped up big time and grabbed all the gritty rebounds you typically see Nick get.
(An interesting trend I want to point out: The last three home games Krstic has lit it up hitting 26 of 43 from the floor (60 percent). But in his last two road games, he’s hit just 6 of 22 (27 percent). That hasn’t really been a season-long trend for Krispy, but has kind of stood out lately. Just a little strange to be so hot at home, but equally as cold on the road.)
Westbrook played a very typical Russell Westbrook game. He had 22 (10-20), four assists and five rebounds. BUT, he did turn it over seven times. A lot of them were plays where he got himself in trouble and it seemed like he sort of panicked. He would just fall down, or scramble to try and get out of a crowd instead of gathering himself and dribbling out and setting up. That’s something he’s had issues with this season, but it never really ended up costing the Thunder tonight. Remember: He is a rookie playing a new position. But how about Russ knocking down another huge late game, late shot-clock distance jumper to lock one up for his team? Almost a carbon copy of what he did against Washington, Westbrook tried the pick-and-pop, it didn’t work and so he back out and hit an 18-footer right in Soloman’s face to put OKC up 97-92. Big time play from a gutsy player.
Jeff Green had a solid return scoring 22 and six boards but he seemed a little out of sync at times. But he really seemed to just step in and go with the flow. He didn’t try and take anything over and really let the points come to him. Though Uncle Jeff was a -7 in a win. That’s not so awesome.
This may be a totally crazy statement and I may want to take it back soon, but at this current moment – at 12:15 a.m., March 11, 2009 – I’m not sure if Thabo Sefolosha isn’t Oklahoma City’s most important player. I know. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, blah, blah, blah. But what Thabo has done on both ends of the floor is undeniable. He’s changed the Thunder completely. There were countless possessions defensively that he basically blew up. He’d jump in passing lanes, he’d tip passes or he’d straight up steal it. I don’t know if Kevin Martin was hurt or something (maybe just his pride?) but he really didn’t play hardly any at all in the second half and had just 12 points on 4-11 shooting against Thabo. For the fifth straight game (that he was in uniform) he led the team in minutes. He was a +10, had 17 points (season high), seven rebounds, two assists and five steals. And just throughout the game was phenomenal defensively. I really think he may be the most important player for OKC’s success right now.
A few bullets:
- Why so little Kyle Weaver? He played just 24 minutes, but was solid. He had seven points on 3-4 shooting, three steals and two assists. He was in a bit of foul trouble, but not enough to sit him for so much of the second half. Brooks may have been feeling Watson because of his ability to help create shots late in games, but seeing as Weaver had big minutes late in the last five, I don’t really get why he sat.
- Speaking of, Weaver is turning into a really heady defender. He was mismatched with Andres Nocioni and Nocioni backed him straight down for an easy two. He tried it again, but Weaver pulled the chair out the next time and Nocioni threw it straight off the backboard. Now that I’m thinking, maybe that’s why Brooks sat Weaver. The Kings were going to try and exploit that matchup all night and Brooks wanted Thabo on him instead. Makes sense I guess.
- I am a Malik Rose fan all the way around. I know he’s basically just a rental, but I like the guy. He had 11 points and six boards in 20 minutes, but he has such a positive impact on the game when he’s on the floor. He makes smart plays and seems to always be involved in a good stretch for OKC. I wish we could have gotten him three years ago.
- I think it’s time for some alternate jerseys. It’s not that I’m really tired of the road blue, but I’m just read for something to mix it up. I think the hold up may be that they don’t know what color to pick. Yellow? Orange/Red? Dark blue? I don’t know what exactly I’d go with, but I just think we need an extra look for the road.
- Is it just me or is Brian Davis way less over-the-top and annoying when we’re winning? I hardly even notice all the lazy boy and trigger zingers anymore. Just another perk to winning.
- The Kings just flat out airmailed four passes straight out of bounds. Like nobody got a hand on it. It just sailed out of play. Either OKC was everywhere, or they’re really, really careless with the ball. I’m thinking the latter.
- So Earl hit a three Sunday night and had a dunk tonight. I don’t even have a joke here.
- And in case you forgot, that’s FIVE of SIX for Oklahoma City. But don’t get too happy, because we’ve got games against Denver, Phoenix, San Antonio, Chicago and Utah coming up. Two out of five would be very, very good there.
And you want to know how to win a close game? The details. While this game was a turnoverfest both ways (23 for OKC, 22 for the Kings), OKC hit 22 of 23 from the free throw line, while the Kings hit just 11 of 14. The Thunder outrebounded the Kings 44-36 for the game and 26-13 in the second half. These are the things OKC wasn’t doing back in November. You play this game then and we lose by 8-10 points. But now? We’re learning how to win. And it’s awesome.
Quick turnaround as OKC gets the Nuggets in Denver tomorrow night. If Carmelo Anthony hits a shot at the buzzer to beat the Thunder again, I’m going to sleep in the oven. If you’re going to beat us Denver, just do it by six or something. Don’t break out hearts again. Please.