Thunder 87, Jazz 86 – Box Score
Last year on New Year’s Eve I had a party to go to. I remember that I told the crew I wouldn’t be there until about 8pm. I had to watch the Thunder and I needed to do a recap (I think I was still on the old blog before Daily Thunder). At that time the team was 3-and-freaking-29. There were articles written almost every day about how the Thunder were one of the worst teams in history…
That night the Thunder came out and beat Golden State and it was the start of something special. That game was the fulcrum, the tipping point if you will for a surge into the new year that saw the team attain a measure of respectability. See the team was only 3-29 going into the new year last year, but they came out and won 10 of their next 19 games and the buzz began about the how the team was making progress.
Tonight similarly has the feel of something special. I don’t have a crystal ball or anything but it just feels like this team has taken the next step. The last step was just getting to somewhere around .500. This next step is beating good teams. The good teams that when you beat them or lose to them might make or break you when the playoff seeding shakes out in the spring. Tonight the Thunder protected the home court, beat a quality team just ahead of them in the standings and finished up the old year 18-14.
Tonight the Thunder pulled out a close game against a very evenly matched Utah team. It really seems sort of surreal to mention Utah and OKC in the same sentence and consider them to be evenly matched, but I really think that’s the case. The game tonight was reasonably tight most of the way. Neither team got out and put the smackdown on the other, however the game was really closer than it needed to be. The Thunder played what I thought was really stingy defense most of the night. Sure there were blown plays but what I mean is that the defensive energy was high, the closeouts were sharp and the general defensive tenor seemed tight. If the Thunder had managed to hit a few more than half it’s free throws this thing could have been a walk away; we left 14 points on the board right there. Also the 19 turns didn’t help matters. But the Thunder were far the more efficient offensive team shooting 47% to 41% for the Jazz.
- Quick quiz: which team leads the NBA in free throw shooting percentage and yet only made half its free throws tonight? Anyone?
- I can’t say enough about Nick Collison. Dude just has humongous giant stones. The Thunder are down by one with like 12 seconds left. KD shoots a long two and bricks it. Colly gets his position for the rebound and tussles with Paul Milsap for the most important rebound of the night. Colly comes up with it and get’s fouled. He’s 2-5 from the line for the night. We need one to tie and two to win. Big stones Colly steps and just knocks them down. Big time.
- Kevin Durant nailed a big three to tie it up at at 81 apiece. It was KD’s 6th consecutive 30+ point game which ties the franchise record set back in 72 by Spencer Haywood. For real.
- There was a great sequence in the first period where Andre Kirilenko was guarding KD and really getting after it. He is one dude who can really match up with the young fella. Utah was switching some screens so Brooks just called KD to set a screen for the Westbrook. The Jazz switched it and AK was left guarding Westbrook and Deron Williams was guarding KD, who just turned around and elevated for an easy jumper. Just a little tit for tat in the coaching matchup.
- There was a great sequence in the first quarter where Krstic played great post defense on Okur and blew up his layin and got the rebound then he made his way down the court and got the Oreb and the putback for a score; then he got back and collected a charge on Booz.
- The Jazz move around without the ball a lot and don’t use screens the way most teams do.
- Westbrook had 7 assists by halftime. I didn’t keep count but I couldn’t believe the number of times he threaded the needle for an open shot right at the basket. He was really finding the gaps in the defense tonight.
- I get the impression that Brooks has given Eric Maynor the green light to shoot or drive when he has some daylight. He got up 5 shots in 15 minutes and has a very nice floater. Oh yeah, and six assists and no turns.
- Harden has been the subject of some brisk conversation lately. How he’s gone from being a tentative shooter and strong passer to just the opposite. What he needs to do in my opinion is to learn that little stop and step back move like Kobe has. Where he drives the lane and then stops on a dime, does one little step back while the defense is retreating and has an open jumper. If not that maybe a little high floater like Maynor has. But for him to force the layin against 2 or 3 defenders who are bigger than him is a losing proposition. The shot is there sometimes I am sure, but you can’t just force it when there is no daylight.
- When Utah went to a zone in the third they closed the gap and took the lead. Then they went away from it?
- How about the play where KD was backing down a defender in the post who knocked the ball loose. Russell grabbed the loose ball and drove the lane in the chaos for a serious dunk.
- Did anyone know Collison had a little floating finger roll?
- Key play of the game: Thunder down by one and forcing Utah into a shot clock violation with 13 seconds left.
Three fun games on the docket: Away against Milwaukee and Chicago and then back home for the Hornets. That’s some serious Point Guard action there.
And lest I forget: Since I am undoubtedly the only Oregonian on Daily Thunder I need to give a big shout out to the Oregon Ducks playing tomorrow in the grandaddy of the bowls – the Rose Bowl. I hope and pray they kick some serious Ohio State butt.