November 29th, game number 18.
That was the date and the game number last year in which the OKC Thunder won their second game. That’s pretty cool.
The game tonight was really surreal if you were a Thunder fan last year and watched most of the games. It was like watching an old fashioned slugout slugfest between two defensive minded Eastern Conference teams. It was like the Pistons of old against the Cavaliers of old. This is not the Thunder of last year, and hey, that’s a good thing!
I didn’t feel real good about the direction of the game through the first quarter. The Thunder starters were getting manhandled to open up. The Thunder didn’t get to the line at all in the first, big Ben Wallace had 5 boards and a block, and all of the Thunder starters were looking pretty stinky offensively. Defensively they were getting after it and giving good effort, but they weren’t getting stops. When Brooks began to trickle in the bench, things began to change for the better.
James Harden showed some of his ball handling wizardry beginning late in the first and carrying over into the second By the time he came out in the middle of the second he had 5 assists and a ” +10″ after his name in the box score. He was bringing the ball up the court some and was like a second point guard running the pick and roll very smoothly with Collison (who set some fierce screens on the Pistons). Harden got a nice “welcome to the NBA” message when he tried to drive on Kwame Brown of all people, who nicely put his shot into the seats. But there is no denying Harden has great court vision and expert passing ability- all the reasons most of us Thunder fans were praying for him on draft night.
Also in the second Etan Thomas and Nick Collison were like two mean hungry pit bulls in the paint defensively. Nick had 5 boards in that first stint and Etan was contesting everything. Both guys are physically aggressive and don’t shy away from contact, but the difference between the two is that Colly is a great rebounder who plays below the rim and Thomas pounds people below the rim but gets up above it to block shots. They are a nasty duo.
After shooting just 8/23 in the first (34.8%) the Thunder got it to drop a bit better in the second and went 7/15 (46% ) and put 22 points on the board.
In the third quarter the Thunder really cranked up the heat defensively. I had the Detroit broadcast on League pass and the Detroit announcers were lamenting that OKC was taking the Pistons out of their offense and what they wanted to do. High praise. We will take it. I actually think OKC’s defense was very good in the first half also, just that the Pistons seemed to just be red hot and getting everything to drop. It was a pretty exciting moment when the Thunder took the lead 52-51 in the third on the road in the Palace. I began to feel like we didn’t belong in that discussion of bottom feeder teams like we were so much last year.
One key play in the fourth had Etan Thomas sky up for a big time block of a Ben Gordon drive and Kevin Durant got the rebound. He initiated a fast break and dished to Green right at the basket who made a little pivot and put the ball in off the glass and got the “and 1″. That play put us up 10 at 73-63.
For the rest of the fourth the lead seemed to be stuck at six. We actually endured an 8-2 Piston where the Thunder had a butt load of wasted possessions but managed to persevere. Finally with about 2 minutes left Thabo hit the first three of the game for the Thunder. Then of course Ben Gordon answered with one of his 0wn. Next possession KD answered with our second of the game and I was all smiles.
- I can’t stress enough how much improvement I see in the Thunder defensively. It’s like watching the Spurs or Cavs out there. I saw at least 80 Thunder games last season and I never saw defense like this for more than a possession or two. This was very intense, swarming and pressuring defense. It wasn’t perfect, but it is such a night and day improvement.
- Memo to Henry Abbott: Kevin Durant’s defense doesn’t suck anymore. He may not be Trevor Ariza or Shane Battier yet, but the dude is working his arse off on D. He is shuffling his feet, his hands are up, those long arms are out and he is staying in front of his man. His defensive intensity is very high and his improvement is very very noticeable, as is the whole teams.
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the very nice game that Krstic had. He hit his shots, he clogged the lane, he rebounded some, he contested shots. Sometimes the highest praise comes from the enemy. The Piston announcer said of Krstic “well, they’ve found themselves a Center…. he is very adequate.”
- The Russell Westbrook/Rodney Stuckey matchup was fun to watch. Neither guy shot well, but they both had their impact on the game. Russ had 10 assists (and 5 turns) 2 blocks, a steal and 5 boards. Stuckey got to the line like a man possessed but wasn’t much of a distributor. Russell was both awesome and infuriating at the same time. One minute he was bricking wide open shots with close to 20 seconds on the shot clock, or forcing drives into the defense, and the next he was getting a huge block or a giant offensive rebound or making the no look pass. He makes me want to munch down a whole bottle of tums and then spit them out when I jump up and cheer for him.
- Durant and Russ both had double-doubles.
- We got to see a little bit of full court pressure by the Thunder at times. I notice Iblaka and Russ were working a little two man press and trap on the Piston point guard.
- After two games the Thunder’s defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) is at 95.9. Last year it over 109! We are allowing 86 points per game so far compared to 103 last season.
- I saw something I never thought I would see: Ben Wallace actually put the ball on the court for about three dribbles and drove and finished with a left hand. Krstic was so shocked he didn’t even shuffle his feet or contest the shot.
- Collison made a huge big nads 14 foot jumper late in the fourth that really impressed me. Green hit a really impressive turn around fade away jumper from about 18 feet in the third that was really, really pretty.
- How about only 11 turns for a team that led the league last year?
I could say more but my fingers are tired. Just a fantastic win. I can’t say enough about how different and improved the Thunder look from anytime last season.