You know how you know your team is getting better? Wins aren’t good enough anymore. You want to play well AND win.
And I’m not so sure Oklahoma City played all that great. No matter though, they won, 105-89 over the now 2-29 Nets. And that’s sometimes what it takes. Do enough to win on the road and then move on with your life. But still, it wasn’t pretty and I like pretty. If you really wanted to be, you could be a little bummed with this win.
But I don’t think we’re to that point with this team yet. I feared a loss heading to New Jersey tonight. But the Thunder took care of their business and won the game. That’s what is important.
If you just check the final line, you assume OKC played a nice defensive game. And in the second half, the Thunder certainly did. But that first half. The Nets, who by efficiency standards are the worst offensive team in the league, scored 55 points and shot 51 percent in the first two quarters. Now in the second, OKC allowed the Nets to just 34 points and held them to just two points over a 10 minute stretch. That’s something a good team does. Coast for a bit, then turn it on. And when the game looked to be in danger, much like the Charlotte game, the Thunder locked down.
I know Kevin Durant had a sexy 40 points and Russell Westbrook dropped another double-double with 16 and 10, but I think Nick Collison gets the gold star tonight. He had 11 points and 10 rebounds, was a plus-25 and took three charges. I feel like Collison is owed a Michael Lewis New York Times piece soon. You simply can’t quantify his value sometimes. On a night Jeff Green got in foul trouble and had six points and two rebounds in 16 minutes, Collison was huge. He may not affect the outcome every night like a guy like Durant, but he’s definitely a factor in winning games more often than not.
But one thing I loved about Durant’s 40 points. He could have gone for 50. Some guys in this league would have definitely tried. But Durant consistently plays within the offense and scores in the flow of the game. He only took 22 shots to get his 40 (15-22). I’m not going to list out who those “Some Guys” are, but it just shows Durant’s team-first mentality. He scores because it helps his team. Not because it helps his stature.
- The Thunder looked a little flat early on, but I don’t know if I was getting their energy confused with the deadness of the arena.
- Thabo’s help defense block on Lopez is a good example of why he’s an elite defensive player. He’s always making plays on that end. He had six assists and while wasn’t a factor offensively, he was excellent in help defense in the second half.
- James Harden, eek. Another 0-10 from the field for just three points. He did have six rebounds though. One thing I’m not liking so much is it seems like he’s looking for his own more than he did two weeks ago. What happened to James the Creator? Now he’s beating his man off the dribble and looking for his own shot instead of looking for a teammate. But remember, he’s a rookie.
- Oh, and the two EASY layups Harden missed. Yikes.
- Byron Mullens! What an exciting night for him. He came in, tried to block a shot from Brook Lopez and then got to walk up the court. I must say, I’d give him an A+ for the night. I mean, he didn’t mess it up, right?
- Forty free throw attempts for the Thunder. That’s your difference in the game.
- Nenad Krstic was excellent in his New Jersey return. A strong 19 points on 7-12 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocks. He played solid defense on Brook Lopez and helped get him in foul trouble.
- Serge Ibaka brought some nice production off the bench. In 17 minutes six points and nine rebounds. I don’t know what everyone else thought, but I want him to take that open 15-footer. He needs to take it. He has the ability to hit and it he can’t be shy about it. Unless of course Scott Brooks told him not to…
- That’s four straight excellent games from Russell Westbrook. Just two turns to 10 assists and another quality offensive game. He finished 4-12, but he missed his last eight shots, including a bunch of tough ones in traffic. His 18-foot jumper is tasty right now. With that shot, his confidence rises in all areas. Again, he’s capable of making it. And the fact he didn’t shy from it when he wasn’t says something about his mental makeup.
- KD had four first quarter turnovers, but just one after that. Seems like he does that a lot. A bunch of turnovers in a bundle and then he refocuses and cleans it up.
- Trenton Hassell must have seen me ripping on him. He had 14 points (10 in the first half) on 6-8 shooting.
- Grant Long mentioned it, but Westbrook’s play right before halftime really showcases how he’s learning. Instead of hoisting a prayer, he was aware of the situation and found Durant for a much high percentage shot. That’s what point guards do. Set teammates up for makeable shots.
- Yi Jianlian looked like an offensive force. But Nets blogger Sebastian Pruiti said tonight’s game was something of an anamoly. Yi hasn’t been that aggressive both inside and out yet this year. From what I saw, Yi has the talent to be a serious scorer in this league. I bet Byron Mullens watched Yi and said, “Yeah, THAT’S what I want to be.” Which makes me want to punch a hard surface.
- OKC outrebounded New Jersey 43-33 on the night and held Lopez to just seven. Six guys had five-plus rebounds for the Thunder.
- The Thunder went 0-12 from 3 tonight. Durant 0-2, Harden 0-4, Green 0-2, Westbrook 0-2, Maynor 0-1, Collison 0-1.
The bottom line is yes, you can complain about some aspects of this game. The first half defense most notably. You can point out some lackluster individual performances. Jeff Green’s most notably. But the important thing is Oklahoma City won the game, went to 16-14 and has a three-game streak in hand. Isn’t that what we all want? I guess things could have been better, but in the end, does it really matter when you have more points than the other guy?
Next up: OKC moves down the road to Washington D.C. to take on the Wizards Tuesday night. And that’s a chance for (gasp) four straight.