This team is starting to prove something to me. Don’t worry, we know we’re playing a little bad right now, but we got this. Going in, every game feels like a toss-up. I haven’t felt genuinely confident yet this year.
But wins like this are starting to make me come around.
At the half, Oklahoma City trailed 55-53, looked uninspired and lazy defensively. It had bad loss written all over it. But they knew they had it. I don’t want to say they were coasting and just playing for the fourth quarter, but they knew they had it. When it got to winning time, the Thunder turned it on. With six minutes left and the Thunder leading 91-90, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook checked back in and Oklahoma City went on a 19-8 run to close the game. The closers came in and shut the door. It was a pleasure to see.
One of the major problems with this group last season was they didn’t know how to win. They didn’t know how to close. They lost some 15 or 16 games by six points or less. But they’re figuring it out. Nick Collison said they’d learn how to win, but I don’t think anyone saw this kind of maturity this soon. This was taking care of business at its finest. For three quarters these guys had me upset and ready to throw things because they were going to give a game away. But they had it all along. They were just waiting to slam the door.
You saw the whole formula for how this team is built, even on off nights. With the team struggling, Durant took over and carried his guys until they came around. KD was unreal for a second straight night – 35 points on 12-19 with 11 rebounds and four assists – but when things were bad in the second quarter, Durant ripped off nine points in three minutes before the half to keep OKC close. Then his mates woke up late. Jeff Green had a big time second half, scoring 18 for the game. Westbrook turned in another double-double with 11 points and 10 assists to just two turns. James Harden scored a few big buckets (11 points).
And Eric Maynor. What a spark off the bench to start the fourth. He kicked it off with a steal and a layup, then hit a 3 and for the quarter, scored seven points and dished out three dimes (four total). In just 12 minutes of run, he made a monster impact behind Westbrook. Not to rag, but I don’t think any of OKC’s former backup point men would have made that kind of immediate impact. Maynor was big time tonight.
- Serge Ibaka played seven minutes in the first half and didn’t play in the second. The only reason I can figure is because Nick Collison was big off the bench again. In 28 minutes, Collison had eight points and four rebounds, all coming in big moments.
- You just watched Exhibit A as to why Thabo deserves Defensive Player of the Year consideration. He just makes such a huge impact defensively. He absolutely glued himself to Arenas. Gilbert only had (seven) points after halftime. It looked like Arenas might explode for 50. But Thabo put the clamps on and shut him down.
- Seems like any time there is a point blank miss, OKC gives up the offensive rebound. Then another. Then another. Someone has got to take it personal and attack the rim instead of letting the ball come to them. Durant got aggressive on the glass in the fourth, but those type of situations are why people think OKC needs a big man. And I don’t disagree. I just think that big man might already be on the roster.
- I get asked a lot in the Daily Dime chats who I’d compare Jeff Green to or what his ceiling is. To me, Green is a carbon copy of Antwan Jamison. A stretch four that can score inside and out, is a bit undersized but can carry a team when needed. Jamison is obviously a more gifted scorer right now, but remember, Uncle Jeff is just 23.
- Besides Westbrook’s stellar offensive game, he played some really nice second half defense on Randy Foye. After OKC locked in on Arenas and Caron Butler, Foye appeared to be the load-bearer for Washington. But Westbrook tightened up and Foye never really saw another clean look.
- One thing I wasn’t thrilled about though: It looked like Russ pouted a lot in the first quarter. He felt like he was hacked twice and instead of getting back, he complained about it. You don’t get a call, fine. But get back on defense. Complain after a whistle. He picked it up after the first but this is becoming a bit of a habit (granted, Russ doesn’t get a lot of calls…) and one I’m not psyched about.
- Just like in New Jersey: 55 first half points for Washington, 43 in the second. Playing defense when it matters.
- OKC just went completely lazy in the second quarter. The Wizards went on a 14-2 run after the Thunder took a 42-32 lead. It almost looked like the Thunder got up and thought they were going to cruise to another win. You can take your foot off the gas against the Bobcats, but you can’t do that against Washington because Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler can flat score. But again, closing out is what the good teams do, and Oklahoma City is a good team.
- How about this for efficient: Durant scored 40 on 22 shots last night. And he put up 35 on 19 tonight. His PER might explode if he keeps this up.
- Some nights, Nenad Krstic makes you want to pull out your hair. Maybe he makes himself want to pull out his own hair and that’s the reason it looks the way it does. At any rate, he struggled for a bit but got it together to hit a couple big jumpers when the Thunder needed it.
- Something rather unimportant but something I’ve been thinking about. Why does Jeff Green do the jump at the beginning of games? He rarely wins (I wish I had a stat on it) and isn’t a great leaper. Why doesn’t Durant do it? Is it a ploy because Scott Brooks prefers to have the ball to start the second and third quarters? Could it be on purpose? Or is it just something Green really likes to do? I’m curious about this.
- KD has scored 30-plus in five straight, which is the first time in his young career he’s done that.
- OKC is 4-0 since Eric Maynor joined the team. M-V-P.
- The Thunder bench was big again. It outscored the Wiz 28-8 and grabbed 14 rebounds.
- Two key stats: Even though it seemed like they got whooped, OKC won the rebound war 44-37 and that’s with giving up 13 offensive rebounds. Washington took 13 more shots, but only hits 40 percent from the field to the Thunder’s 54 percent.
In a long 82-game season and on the second night of a back-to-back, you pace yourself I guess. And if pacing yourself is winning by 12 and outscoring your opponent 34-22 on their floor, then I’ll take it. I’ll admit, I was ready to set the world on fire. I thought this might be a trap game for OKC, but I didn’t want them to lose because a lack of effort. And halfway through the third, I thought that’s what would happen. But these guys are good. They really are. They sense the moment, they understand how to win when they should and they know how to take care of business. I’m coming around on the fearing every game as a loss. Last season is becoming a distant memory. These guys are new, improved and maturing rapidly. Of course they’re going to lose a few they shouldn’t along the way, that’s life, but I think it’s time I stop worrying so much about it.
Next up: The Thunder returns home for a New Year’s Eve game against the Jazz Thursday night.