Let’s just start with this: You know how many points the Clippers had in the fourth quarter? Ten. Ten points.
The Thunder cranked up the defense and the effort late to lock away a nice road win against the Clippers, 83-79 in a game that wasn’t pretty. And the Thunder’s won ugly a couple times this year. Which I think is huge because when you can win games like this – come from behind, make key plays down the stretch and finish – it goes a long way in the final standings. You can say it all the time but this is a game OKC loses last year. But this time, they finish the deal.
One thing that has to be gotten out of the way: Oklahoma City trailed by seven late in the third when Russell Westbrook got stepped on and had to leave the game. The Thunder promptly went on an 18-6 run to take the lead about halfway through the third. I don’t think it was so much Kevin Ollie (though he did have 11 points and five rebounds) as it was James Harden (seven points, eight assists, five rebounds). Harden took over the role as playmaker and set up a bunch of good looks and scored a little himself. Games like this show exactly why he’s the fit for this team. Fear the Beard.
But let’s be honest, Westbrook was out of control. He was 1-11 from the floor and had just three assists in 22 minutes. Ollie really steadied the offense. It seemed like Westbrook started pressing when things weren’t going right and he desperately wanted to make a play and he couldn’t get it going. I feel like he’s taking two steps forward, one and a three-fourths back every other night. He’ll get there but there will have to be nights like this.
I want to say it was coincidence that OKC’s run at the end of the third happened when Westbrook went out. But the reality is, Harden came in, started making plays and the offense opened up. I’m not piling on Russ by any means because Lord knows I’m one of his biggest fans and supporters, but he has these games. And I’ll say it until you’re sick of it – he’s in his second year and he’s 20. It’s gonna happen. Not everybody can be Chris Paul.
And I know Kevin Durant was the clear player of the game with 30 and 10, but Serge Ibaka played some HUGE minutes in the second half. Chris Kaman started having his way with Nenad Krstic and I guess Scott Brooks didn’t feel great about Etan Thomas (only four minutes), so Ibaka got the call. Now he fouled out in just 16 minutes and his line isn’t going to blow you away – four points, three boards and a block – but his energy, help defense and effort was huge. He defended Kaman as well as you can forcing him into six straight misses and holding him to just a handful of second half points. I think we’re going to have a little more Serge in our future and that fires me up.
That said, in a crucial possession with 30 seconds left and the Thunder up three, Krstic played some excellent defense on Kaman, forcing The Ugly One into a bad turnover which sealed it for OKC. It’s not like Krstic was bad, but Coach Brooks sensed the game getting away because of the Clips inside presence and he made an adjustment and went with Ibaka. It turned out to a good spark.
- The Clips play some seriously lazy defense at times. Early on, Durant lightly curled off a pick and had no one chasing him really. I think Durant was kind of surprised how open he was. He’s not used to that.
- I just want to thank Rasual Butler for taking bad shot after bad shot. He went 2-8 from 3 and 2-10 overall. A lot of that is Thabo of course, but a good part of it was just dumb shooting.
- Westbrook has good ideas but makes decisions too quickly. There’s a difference between being indecisive and thinking too quickly. He’ll often get into the lane and have his head up, looking to make a pass. But everything is so congested because he’s so deep in the lane that nothing is there.
- Thabo with eight rebounds tonight. He’s honestly been a huge part of the Thunder’s rebounding thus far. Got to love his effort.
- The Thunder held the Clips to 36 percent shooting. They’re the fourth team OKC has held under 40 percent.
- At this pace, OKC would finish 41-41 on the year. That would be a good season, right?
- I like playing this game: Last year, win No. 4 came Dec. 31. This year, Nov. 11. Improvement.
- Notice how the last three games, Durant and Green’s minutes have been down a bit? Durant logged 36 and Green just 29 Wednesday. That’s a good thing.
- For those that didn’t hear: Westbrook suffered a minor little ankle sprain and was fine. He was cleared to re-enter but obviously didn’t. I assume he’ll play Friday.
Two things are most satisfying about this win: 1) The Thunder made key plays down the stretch and outscored the Clippers 17-10 in the fourth. Instead of folding and not closing, Durant hit a big shot, the team got a big stop and they sealed it up. And 2) Harden and Ibaka played some crucial minutes and played them well. That type of stuff will be big in the long run in terms of this team’s maturation. All in all, it’s a good win on the road, where OKC is now 2-2 after being just 8-33 all of last year away from home.
A day off and OKC heads to take on The Master in San Antonio Friday Saturday night.