Merry Christmas Thunder fans. This one’s for you.
Remember all those games where Kevin Durant would come up just a little short in the fourth quarter when we wanted him to take over? Against the Lakers at the Ford Center. Against the Cavs. Against LA last night again. We knew KD had it in him, we knew he’d start to get it, but when was it going to happen? And tonight, Dec. 23rd, 2009, I think you saw what’s in our future. Kevin Durant, is getting it. That, for the NBA, is freaking scary.
The funny thing is, KD did something he hadn’t done yet this year prior to taking over. In a big spot with OKC down two in the fourth, he missed TWICE from the free throw line. A huge double-miss. OKC retained possession after the Suns tipped it out on the rebound, but Durant missed an open jumper on the inbounds pass. I think we all had another “Here we go again” moment, but after the momentary letdown, Durant took over. Took. Over. This wasn’t a meaningless game against a bad team. This was on the road at a place the Suns had only lost once, on the second of a back-to-back. Durant took his team to a higher place and carried them to victory. It’s what Kobe does. It’s what LeBron does. It’s what Wade does. And maybe this is the beginning of that for Durant. At least we can hope so.
I honestly don’t know what’s the biggest thing to take from this game. The fact Oklahoma City got back to .500 with a MONSTER road victory during this killer stretch, or Durant’s takeover. I’ll just say both. It’s funny, because with about eight minutes left, Phoenix had its second unit on the floor and the game was tied. I kept thinking, “OKC needs to extend this lead to four or five before Amare and Nash come back in. If they want to have a prayer, they’ve got to get some space.” What I failed to consider was that the Thunder had Kevin Durant waiting to re-enter. Nash and Stoudemire were awesome, but not as good as Durant. And in the end, that was enough for OKC to win 117-113.
I know tonight was about KD’s 38 points on just 20 shots, but really, up and down the line, everyone was big for the Thunder. Jeff Green had 17 points and nine rebounds, including one MASSIVE tip-in with about two minutes left. Russell Westbrook had 19 (8-17 shooting), seven assists and eight rebounds and really held Oklahoma City in this game with big shot after big shot. James Harden was huge off the bench with 14 points. Serge Ibaka continues to make me scream like a teenage girl every time he does something, as he added 12 points, seven rebounds and one block. If this season goes to good places, I think we can circle this game, star it, put a sticker next to it and then highlight it as a major turning of the corner. This team is getting it. THAT close the night before in Los Angeles and then getting over the hump in Phoenix. I can’t downplay how big this win was.
- I nearly threw a candle at the TV in the second half. It just didn’t seem like OKC could get a call. Steve Nash just owns the officials. He says it, they do it. The final tally was 29 OKC fouls to 20 for Phoenix but at one point it was 25-13. And that’s another feather in the cap for the Thunder. The team was visibly frustrated with the officiating and they plowed through it. They overcame it and pulled out a win. That’s big for a young group.
- Again, Westbrook was awesome. I know the box score says he had five turnovers but keep in mind two things: 1) He didn’t turn it over once in the fourth and 2) Three of those turns were questionable. Two were offensive fouls and one he was hacked by Goran Dragic and didn’t get a call.
- The Thunder really had no answer for Amare inside. Nenad Krstic was completely overwhelmed. Nick Collison fought hard but couldn’t hang with him. Ibaka did the best on him, but still, Amare had 35 on 11-15 shooting along with 14 rebounds.
- I found it interesting that Thabo guarded Steve Nash for most of the game. Maybe that’s because Nash likes to hide behind screeners and shoot or fall away and shoot and maybe Thabo’s length could bother him. Thabo didn’t have a point, but I thought he played Nash well, especially in the second half. After nine assists in the first half, Nash had just three in the second.
- The Ibaka block on Stoudemire that led to a Harden dunk is maybe my favorite sequence of the season. My shriek of joy was so loud that I think my neighbors called the police on me.
- Oh yeah, Eric Maynor. He looked a little nervous. And why wouldn’t he be? He had a wild day. He was in OKC four hours before the tip getting a physical, showed up in Phoenix and basically walked on the floor. Things were very simplified for him. He basically dribbled up, and passed to a cutter. And he did a good job of it (two points, five assists to just one turn in 12 minutes). There were flashes and once he gets more comfortable, I promise you, he is going to be a perfect fit.
- With Maynor running the second team, I’m not all that scared to say OKC might have a top five bench… in the LEAGUE. Yes, I’m serious. The emergence of Ibaka, the addition of Maynor, Harden scoring and creating, Collison scrapping, it’s a great unit. They came in and started the second quarter on a 9-0 run right away. They outscored Phoenix’s pine-riders 34-12 tonight.
- The way Westbrook attacked Steve Nash is how he should go after everyone. I’m almost convinced that Westbrook has that little 15-foot jumper. He just hasn’t made it thus far. The fact that he takes it and is encouraged to take it tells me that he’s capable of knocking it down with regularity. And really, he NEEDS to make it. It opens him up to a whole other level offensively. The thing he needs to do is harness it and not get carried away. Stay in the flow, stay in rhythm. When he does that, he’s excellent.
- I have no idea why Jeff Green kept leaving Channing Frye. We all know Frye can shoot for a big man, but I can understand making him prove it. After one 3, or two, well then maybe you start covering him from deep. But after FIVE, I don’t think you leave him at all.But he kept sinking in the lane and helping, leaving Frye at the line ready to knock down a moneyball.
- Speaking of Frye, every time I look at him, I think of the two bad guy twins, Spike and Iggy from the Super Mario Brothers movie. His head just looks too small for his shoulders.
- Ibaka and Stoudemire jumped against each other three times! How crazy is that? And Amare won all three. Those three extra possessions were almost the decider. Right before the third jump with Ibaka, you could see Durant trying to tell Serge something, but clearly Serge wasn’t understanding.
- How about Russ’s dunk attempt from halfcourt? Just about six feet short on it.
- OKC turned the tables a bit tonight: The Thunder took 12 more shots than the Suns, had 16 offensive rebounds and won the battle of the boards 48-38. Oh, and just 11 turnovers.
I’m trying to tell myself that I shouldn’t get that excited about this win and that it’s a long season and that really, it’s just one of hopefully many more. But I just feel like this is a potential turning point for this team. Durant took over. Westbrook controlled the game. Green was huge as a role player. The bench was awesome. And on the back end of a road trip that most everyone expected them to come back two games under, they shock the Suns at home to pull back to even at 14-14. I don’t care what you say, at this moment for this young team, it’s big.
Next up for the Thunder: Saturday at home against Charlotte. No letdowns please.