Kevin Durant is awesome. He’s a legit MVP candidate. He was fantastic once again against New Orleans with 30 points. We know this.
But this was Russell Westbrook’s game. He was huge on the offensive glass against Atlanta and he came up with an even bigger offensive board with 35 seconds left against the Hornets tonight. And the best part is, after sitting on the clock for 15 seconds, Westbrook finished off the extra possession he provided by knocking down a backbreaking jumper to put Oklahoma City up four with 15 seconds left. He flirted with a triple-double for the second straight night (26-8-10) and while KD will be the Thunder’s unquestioned MVP for the season, Westbrook was the MVP for the night.
And that’s what it takes to separate yourself from an average team with a superstar player, to a good team that actually may be able to compete with the best of the best. Instead of consistently relying on one guy to carry you, you can delegate to another playmaker to make it happen. Kevin Durant is going to be The Man 95 out of 100 times. But the fact that it’s looking like the Thunder can point to Westbrook and sometimes Jeff Green for that big play is more encouraging than anything else.
Not to say Durant wasn’t great tonight. Because he was. Another 30-point game coming on 10-20 shooting, 2-4 from 3 and three rebounds. However, Durant did turn the ball over eight (!) times, including five times in the first quarter. Consider: OKC turned it over just seven times against Atlanta. KD topped that mark all by himself tonight. And when it looked like KD might fade in crunch time while his team struggled offensively, Durant stepped up. Entering the fourth, he had 25 points. He didn’t take his first shot until there was 5:51 left. And he didn’t score his first points until there was 3:23 left. But unlike games back in late November, Durant asserted himself and then popped a beautiful baseline jumper and canned two free throws to seal the deal. It wasn’t a flashy 12-point takeover, but he made the big plays in the big moments to get a win. Which is what matters.
- A trend that seems to be developing: As good as OKC seems to play the last four minutes of the third, they seem to play equally as poor the first four of the fourth. I think a lot of that is related to the fact KD sits the first four or five minutes of the quarter and the offense typically sputters.
- The Hornets didn’t take their first lead until 44 minutes in. But finally, a Darren Collison corner 3 put the Hornets on top for the first time, 95-94. That’s when KD scored three points to put OKC up for good. M-V-P.
- The Thunder started this one hot. They jumped out 14-2 early, but the first quarter finished knotted at 22-22. The reason? OKC didn’t score a point the last 3:42.
- Durant pulled the rip move perfectly on Peja early in the game, but somehow didn’t get the call. I’ve never seen that happen. As many calls as he got last night, he got the opposite treatment tonight. Not saying it was bad officiating, I’m more saying Durant wasn’t gift-wrapped any free throws. KD then pulled it again from the exact same spot and got the call on Marcus Thornton and used it on James Posey to get to the line to tie the game at 95-95.
- James Harden brought the headband back. I don’t know that it worked. Five points on 1-3 shooting in 15 minutes.
- Jeff Green is finding his 3-point stroke again (2-4). He looks confident taking it. He finished with 14 points and three rebounds, but was absolutely bullied by David West in the post the first half (15 points). However, West didn’t score a point in the second half. I thought a lot of that was that West seemed passive for some reason in the later stages of the game.
- Have we found that “shot-blocking big man” everyone always talks about every five seconds? I don’t know. But Serge Ibaka is looking pretty darn good as a rookie. If you’re not impressed by this 20-year-old’s ability, you’re not paying attention. I drool at what he could be like in two years. IN 22 minutes he had six points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
- How about Nenad Krstic people? OKC was actually looking for him in the third quarter. He ripped off 10 points in the third, eight coming on consecutive possessions. He finished the game 7-8 from the floor and was 7-7 before he was forced into a prayer at the end of the 24. He carried OKC offensively in the third and finished with 14 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes.
- I found it interesting Ibaka got the time down the stretch over Krstic though. It was a rebounding decision, plain and simple. Scott Brooks has shown in those scenarios, he’s going to go with Serge. Krstic may have been hot, but that’s what Durant, Green and Westbrook are for. Ibaka was in to rebound and protect the rim. The same scenario played out last time in the Ford Center as well. Krstic had a big third, but Ibaka played most the minutes in the fourth.
- Westbrook’s assist distribution tonight: Four led to buckets at the rim, two to 10-15 foot jumper, three to 16-23 foot jumper and one to a 3. When Krstic is on, Russ’s assists go up. It’s scientific fact.
- OKC went 10-20 from 16 to 23 feet. Another hot jumpshooting night. Westbrook was 8-10 at the rim and Krstic was 4-5 from 16 to 23 feet.
- Some credit has to go to Nick Collison who had 10 rebounds off the bench for OKC. He also scored six points, including a huge 15-foot jumper as the shot clock expired.
- I always wonder why teams like New Orleans and Memphis are so good at home when they have poor attendance. What’s the advantage there?
- OKC shot 59 percent from the floor in the first half and 57.5 percent for the game. Why was this close? Because NOLA took 18 more shots than OKC. Eighteen Thunder turnovers hurt.
- Durant just scores. It’s so natural and so fluid that you hardly notice 18 points in a half. Maybe it’s because we watch him do this darn near every game, but it just never seems like he “exploded” or anything. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?
- You already know, but that’s 23 straight games of 25 or more for KD. Oh and this stat is cool: KD with 44 25-point or more game this season. Last season, he had 43 total.
- I really like when Grant Long forgets where he is and yells things out like, “GET ON THE FLOOR!” or “HE’S OPEN! THERE HE IS!” It just adds a little personal flavor to the game. You can tell he cares and I like that.
This is the first time the Thunder have ever beaten the Ford Center’s former tenants and the first time the franchise has beat New Orleans in 10 tries. It’s a satisfying win for sure. Not only does this put OKC 28-21 and seven games over for the first time ever (not including Seattle), but it’s also four straight after the three-game losing streak and another two wins on a back-to-back. This team is just growing up exponentially. I don’t know if they’re playoff bound, but regardless of what happens, this team is good and I think they’ve made the improvement they needed for this year.
Next up: The Warriors again Saturday night in San Francisco.