The Thunder looked flat early. The crowd was lethargic, as were the players. Blame it on the bad weather, a Christmas hangover, whatever. But this game had every appearance of a letdown. But here’s what’s cool: They won.
It was almost similar to how the REALLY good teams do it sometimes. Come out with sub-par energy and when things look to be getting serious, YOU get serious. It’s not ideal but it’s what good teams do to get by during an 82-game season. And I think at this point we can (gasp) start calling Oklahoma City a good team.
But the Thunder never could completely put Charlotte away. After a 13-2 run in the second quarter, the Bobcats came back with a big run of their own. After a 9-0 run to start the third quarter, Charlotte came back to bring it to within four. OKC held a 5-10 point lead for virtually the entire game. And while yes, it was a little frustrating that the Thunder never really put the dagger in, this had the feeling of a lot of Thunder games against elite teams. One side has just enough talent to keep it somewhat interesting, but the other clearly has them overmatched. It felt like OKC playing Boston or Cleveland last year, when the Thunder could keep it around eight or ten, but never have the extra umph to get over the hump. And I think it’s kind of cool to have a team good enough to “toy” with another team.
That said, OKC isn’t good enough to do this sort of thing on a consistent basis. You do this enough and you’ll start losing games you absolutely shouldn’t.
But you know what? Some defensive breakdowns late, some poor offensive execution and a few turnovers and this thing got close. Like four points close with the Bobcats in possession of the ball. Thanks to a horrible turnover by Stevie Graham, OKC caught a break and finished it with a Durant dunk to seal the deal. But again, these are the things the Thunder have watched happen to them against other teams in the past. Now this season, it seems like OKC is the squad making its breaks happen. I think that makes this a good team, right?
- I know Serge Ibaka has played really well, but Nenad Krstic still has value. Some have talked about trading him, but whether he starts or comes off the bench, he’s a nice role player. He had a solid 13 and 10 in just 24 minutes, but that’s a great contribution from him. He’s worth having because he’s an extra offensive weapon and a perfect pick and pop option. Wherever he fits in later on, he’s definitely worth having.
- But ponder this somewhat amazing stat: Tonight was the first game Krstic has recorded at least 10 rebounds. For a starting seven-foot center, that’s kind of incredible.
- Does it seem like OKC struggles to finish fast breaks to anyone else? It seems like there is not a lot of passing and that the lead man almost always attacks the basket. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but that’s what it seems like to me.
- OKC played some uninspired defense and was mainly helped by bad Charlotte offense. Stephen Jackson had 24 points on 26 shots. The Bobcats hit just 43 percent and missed eight free throws. I think the best defense you could play tonight was to leave your man open for an 18-foot jumper.
- Yep, Russell Westbrook is unslumping. And one reason for it? He’s finishing much better at the rim. He’s awesome at getting there, but a lot of times he’ll miss a tough layup at the tin. Now he’s completing the play. The guy is going to be a good player. I know he’s somewhat divisive in the fan base and there are a lot of opinions about him, but remember, he’s young, talented and learning. He’s starting to get some consistency. If I told you two years from now instead of three out of five games being like this, he’s having eight of ten like this, would you be happy? I would.
- And yes, I realize I said he’s finishing better at the rim and he blew an uncontested layup. I’m not counting that. But since the Maynor deal (three games) Westbrook is: 27-56 (48 percent) from the field, has 26 assists to seven turnovers and is averaging 20.6 ppg. He started tonight 9-10 from the floor before getting carried away and finished 10-18. But six assists, zero turnovers and five rebounds is a solid, solid game. Again, I’m convinced Westbrook has a solid mid-range game. You might remember me even saying it while he struggled two weeks ago. But he’s capable of knocking down those 12-15 feet jumpers. His confidence is spilling over and I think the more he plays, the more he hits those with regularity.
- Thabo is such a huge part of the Thunder’s rebounding. He had another eight boards tonight and for the season, he’s in the top five for shooting guards. His box score doesn’t light you up every night, but he’s productive almost every minute that he’s in. James Harden is much flashier and we all love him and he’s a big part of the current success, but don’t forget Thabo’s value.
- I think KD’s shot is back. Like all the way back. Three-pointer included. He’s taking them more in rhythm and knocking down the open ones. I think he’ll finish the season around 40 percent.
- Ibaka was not that awesome tonight. Zero points in 11 minutes and just three rebounds. But hey, he’s just 20. Even with that, I’m really beginning to think a lot of the “Sign a Big Man” talk may start dying out. Maybe the best option is to remain patient and let Ibaka and company develop. Think about how far he’s come since his first action against Detroit where he was completely lost. I feel like if we wait, we might be rewarded with something special, without having to give up assets. Wait and see I suppose.
- You’ve got to love the Eric Maynor-Jeff Capel story. Right after Maynor was traded to OKC, Capel sent him a text that said, “Welcome to OKC. And if you don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas, you’re coming to my house.” Gotta love that.
- Interesting thing about the double-technical called on Ibaka and Jackson: If you listen closely to the referee reporting the foul to the scorer’s table, you hear him say, “Technical to Jackson and… Ibaka or whatever his name is.” I guess Serge really hasn’t developed a reputation with the officials yet, huh?
- How does Flip Murry beat Jeff Green on a jump ball? How?
- What happened to Boris Diaw? I thought he used to be good. Or at least kind of good.
- Nick Collison was nice off the pine. Nine points, eight rebounds in 25 minutes. Without him, OKC loses this game.
- Maynor showed a little offense tonight. The nice slip to the bucket on the screen and roll and then the deep 3. He only played nine minutes but that’s his role and he handled it nicely.
- If you were sitting mid-court behind a girl wearing a bright green shirt, I saw you on TV wearing your “Beard” shirt. Thanks.
- What is up with Grant Long’s new fascination with declaring, “That is Thunder basketball” or some variation of that. It started the other night against the Lakers and I think he’s really fallen in love with it. My question is: What exactly IS Thunder basketball? Fast-breaking? Rebounding? Good defense? Isn’t that just sort of… basketball? Mrs. Daily Thunder on the matter: “If he says that one more time, I am going to shove this pencil through my eye. I’m serious.” After every somewhat decent play I started saying, “THAT’S THUNDER BASKETBALL.” I now have a pencil through my eye.
- Eight turnovers in the first half for the Thunder, just two in the second. And OKC outrebounded Charlotte 48-36 and after the Bobcats had taken nine more shots in the first half, the Thunder finished with two more attempts.
A nice win if for nothing else because it was exactly that – a win. Again, you mess around like this on a consistent basis and you’ll lose some you shouldn’t. But I find it kind of awesome that Oklahoma City even has the ability to play flat for a half, slop around for a bit, let a team hang around and then still win. I think a game like this shows the improved maturity and focus of this group, almost more than a big upset win in Phoenix. But maybe that’s just me.
Next up: Now at 15-14, OKC heads to New Jersey to take on the Nets Monday night.