Well, that got a little more exciting than it needed to be but the Thunder held on to a nice road win in Utah, primarily through another third quarter offensive explosion and a fairly impressive defensive performance throughout the game. Also, if the Thunder shoot 44.4% from three every night, I like our odds folks. I’m beginning to have some serious anticipation for the games following a Kevin Durant rough shooting night at this point! After the L.A. game, didn’t you just kind of have the feeling he was going to take out his frustrations on the Utah Jazz?
You couldn’t really ask for a better initial start for the Thunder despite Jeff Green’s charge on Okur during the Thunder’s first offensive possession, which seemed to force Green to hesitate on his shots and drives after that all the way up until the second quarter. The boys in blue had very active hands defensively at the start of the first quarter and looked a little sharper than the Jazz did from the get-go, rotating excellently on defense with Russell Westbrook looking to pass early and often and I really wish he kept that mindset throughout the game instead of just in spurts.
Speaking of passing and receiving said passes, I think I know exactly what I’m getting Nenad Krstic for Christmas: Hand Softener. Whether it’s hand lotion or soap, the man is suffering from a chronic case of concrete hands and folks, he may need our help. Despite multiple fumbled entry passes, Krstic’s jumpshot was on and when it is on, he really spreads the floor and opens up driving lanes for the Thunder’s wing players. In addition, Krstic had grabbed 4 rebounds by the 7:00 minute mark in the first quarter. I got all excited but told myself that he averages only 4.8 a game and, lo and behold, he only grabbed 2 the rest of the way.
Serge Ibaka came in at the 6:07 mark when Green picked up his second foul…and then left at the 1:47 mark after committing a needless second foul. After his performance in L.A., I had to keep reminding myself that he was a rookie and inconsistency was probably going to be his and Harden’s calling card for the majority of the year. And then I had to remind myself in the second half how inconsistency works both ways, for bad and then definitely good!
Millsap dominated the paint in the first quarter with the Thunder’s regular bigs in foul trouble or resting to the tune of 13 points. But Durant more than matched Millsap with 13 points of his own, to go along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists after the first frame, which saw Kyle Weaver display flashes of the defense that would continue to amaze throughout the entire game.
At the start of the second quarter James Harden seemed a little passive and the game really got sloppy, with the Jazz turning it over a total of 5 times at the 10 minute of the second quarter and the Thunder already notching 6 giveaways at that point as well. All it took was one knifing drive to the bucket for Harden for an And-1 completion and Harden was on his way to a ridiculously efficient 10 point second quarter. Green also joined in the 10 point quarter effort, matching Harden with two great three pointers off of some Durant and Westbrook drive and dishes.
The one thing you have to say about the first half is that Deron Williams got wherever he wanted to on the basketball court against Westbrook and Weaver (even despite a sweet rejection on Deron Williams from Kyle Weaver). But Jeff Green sank two free throws with 2.7 seconds remaining in the first half to give the Thunder a 53-52 lead going into halftime.
Enter the patented third quarter Thunder explosion of offensive efficiency and swarming defense. At the 9 minute mark I wrote down in my handy, dandy Thunder recap notebook, “Thunder look ready to pull away!” And they didn’t disappoint. Durant’s silky jumper just kept on falling, but even more impressive than that was KD’s court vision and passing. Almost every time the Jazz double-teamed him off of a drive Durant would find the open man and just kept racking up the assists.
The Jazz switched to a zone very briefly to try and stop the Thunder flood (see what I did there?…that was for Royce) and the scoreboard during that time showed why the Jazz only employed the zone for a brief stint, as Green and Durant just ate the zone alive with open jumpshots. Perhaps the most subtle yet game-changing coaching change by Scott Brooks in the game was the decision to switch Thabo onto Deron Williams and move Westbrook over to defend the Jazz’s shooting guard, whether it was Ronnie Brewer or Wes Matthews. Thabo, in all his Sefoloshiousness, (Sefoloshiousness – to hinder and/or completely shut down an opponent’s offensive force or playmaker through sheer defensive domination) bothered Williams the rest of the game and that development ground the Jazz’s pick-and-roll/screen-and-roll offense to a halt.
Krstic had to sit with 4 fouls at the 7:30 mark of the third and Ibaka came in and looked to have learned his lesson from the first half and stayed in the game, making positive contributions the rest of the way and only picking up one more foul until the final buzzer. And that may be the most uplifting thing about Ibaka: the guy’s learning curve must be through the roof. You can literally see him recognizing the need for adaptation and then quickly adjusting his game as needed. Also, his defense on Boozer was very impressive as he was pretty much the only Thunder defender to bother Boozer enough in the paint to limit Boozer’s almost absurd offensive impact (26 points). Westbrook continued to have a quiet game until that third quarter when he decided to start really taking it at the Jazz defense and Durant continued to show his improved defense throughout that quarter as well.
The fourth quarter was pretty much a “Can they close it out?” quarter but Weaver continued his fantastic play at the backup point guard position and he and Harden really display a great chemistry together. The Jazz went on an 11-0 run after some careless Westbrook turnovers (offensive foul and a double-dribble) and after a Green travel, which meant the Thunder let a 19 point lead dwindle to 8 before Westbrook made a pair of free throws that ended the skid and pretty much helped the Thunder right the ship enough in time to close out a rather impressive victory on the road against a division opponent. 8-7 people! If we don’t stop this winning record/.500 record see-saw I might get sick, but the sheer fact that I can say either .500 record or winning record is, well, pretty special and better than I thought they’d be at this point in the season, with the 9th toughest schedule in the league (per Hollinger).
- Was it just me or did the Utah Jazz crowd look particularly sparse? I was honestly quite shocked to see so many empty green seats at EnergySolutions Arena and only when everyone moved down into the lower bowl could any crowd noise be heard. That’s typically a very, very rowdy place.
- I’d like to thank Eric Maynor for being a rookie and committing that unforgivable off-the-ball foul on Westbrook when the Jazz had cut the lead to 8 again. Maynor had been bothering Westbrook a lot up until that point and I was ready to start screaming at the refs to call it both ways in terms of touch fouls before they listened to my mental screams and did. So, thank you, Eric Maynor!
- Oh, just another 28 point, 8 assist, 5 rebound, 1 steal, 1 block to only 2 turnover performance from Durant. You know, no big deal.
- Green truly does have the quietest game in the history of the world (okay, that may have been a bit exaggerated but somebody’s got to help him out in that department). You watch the game and then look at the box score and go, “What?! How did Green get 19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals?”
- Thabo was beginning to look irrelevant in the first half of that Jazz game since they don’t have that elite scorer but boy he remedied that real fast, didn’t he?
- Don’t look at Westbrook’s Assist-to-Turnover line. Just focus on the 17 points and the 8-10 free throws. No, seriously. Don’t do it.
- Harden and Ibaka were almost the models of efficiency tonight: Harden went 4-5 from the field and 1-2 from deep, finishing with 10 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 20 minutes; Ibaka was 3-4 from the field with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. Not bad for the rookies. But…
- KYLE WEAVER, ladies and gentleman! 2-3 from the field, 1-1 from downtown, 2-2 from the line and 7 points, 1 assist and 3 BLOCKS in only 15 minutes of action. Seriously Brooks and Presti, please tell me you’re not even thinking about sending him back to Tulsa. He’s always had great vision, great length and a knack for defending anything in front of him; let’s face it, he’s a solid backup point guard and fits a need on this team. He needs to stay and see time in Oklahoma City, not in Tulsa.
- Lastly, Deron Williams is just good. He gets anywhere he wants to at almost all times with his change of pace ability, but perhaps most impressive of all is his ability to maintain his dribble. For all you young point guards out there, please, master the art of keeping your dribble alive because it opens up a world of playmaking opportunities and will let you get out of trouble as well as not put yourself into trouble either.
Bring on Brandon Jennings and the Bucks on national television!