Now that’s exactly what you would hope to see from a playoff contender after two straight losses. Oklahoma City came out with a frantic energy and sustained it for a full 48 minutes, as the Thunder jumped out to a lead, stretched it out and then held on to it to win by 17, 109-92.
This was one of the cleanest, most focused and most well executed games this year by the Thunder, and that’s even with 17 turnovers. They shot 54 percent from the field, never scored less than 25 in a quarter and defensively was extremely sharp, holding Minnesota to 40 percent shooting. And what was a little weird about it, was for once it didn’t feel like Kevin Durant was the focus. He kind of felt like a secondary player. And I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. The entire team was sharp. There was excellent ball movement, a ton of cutting and a bunch of great passing. Durant played well, but this game was the first time in a long time where he wasn’t the offensive star. It really was a total team effort and he was one of the guys. And I think that’s a great, great sign.
Leading all of that was Russell Westbrook who had one of his finest games of the season and if it weren’t for it being a blowout he probably would have grabbed another triple-double against Minnesota. He was two rebounds shy, as he tied a career-high in assists with 15 and also added 18 points on 7-11 shooting. This game just had a Westbrook feel, if that makes any sense. It felt like he was The Man, the guy in complete charge of the show. He was the orchestrator, the conductor driving the train.
One thing about Russ: He looks like a point guard. I wish I had a game on my DVR from last year and could just use to compare it to the way Westbrook looks now. He’s in complete control of the game. He’s smart with the ball. He’s managing and running the team. He’s just more comfortable with the ball in his hands. He’s doing more no-look passes, more threading the needle and playing with a real confidence. I didn’t think someone could necessarily develop court vision, but it kind of seems like Westbrook has.
- The pace of this game rolled in at 96, which is pretty darn fast. And I think that’s a lot of the reason for Westbrook’s success. He absolutely thrives in that type of environment. Open floor, flying down the court and making quick decisions. It’s where he’s best. I kind of think Scott Brooks has visions of opening up the game and running a little more in the future once Westbrook gets a complete grasp of it, the team gets control of it and most importantly, they don’t lose anything at the defensive end.
- Durant scored 25! Oh wait…
- But seriously though, 25 on 8-17 shooting with nine rebounds. That’s quite a nice ho-hum night. Durant was electric offensively in the first quarter, quieted in the second and went to the locker room with 16. He did look a little frustrated at times, especially after the third time he had the ball poked away from him on a run-out.
- Nenad Krstic must have read the post about the third quarter today. 3-3 in the first quarter for six points.
- All five Thunder starters were in double-digits and seven players total.
- How good was Serge Ibaka tonight? He scored a career-high 14 points, had two blocks and pulled in three boards. But his most impressive play was when he stole a pass and ran a fast break, dropping a beautiful bounce pass to James Harden for an and-1.
- Kevin Durant’s drilled a nice pull-up 3 with about 1:30 left in the first quarter. I swear he worked on that exact play for 15 straight minutes before the All-Star Game. Just over and over and over.
- It was behind the scenes night on the broadcast. The went to split screens and showed producers talking and directing and stuff. I didn’t get much out of watching a guy sit at a switchboard with a headset. No thanks on that.
- Westbrook really showed something with about 4:30 left in the third. KD was out on the wing, desperately calling for the ball. But like a smart point guard that had control of the game, Westbrook pulled the ball out, settled the offense and called a play. The Thunder made four passes, moved the ball around and Westbrook ended up with a layup after a nice bounce pass from Krstic. A lot of guards would have throw Durant the pass, but Westbrook wanted to run a set and he took charge and got it done. Just a nice display of floor generalship.
- It was nice having Nick Collison and Ibaka back. A combined nine rebounds and 24 points.
- Jeff Green quietly had a great night. He had 13 points and six rebounds, but really seemed to be everywhere on the defensive end. Tipping pass, jumping in passing lanes and playing tough on the block. Nice game for Uncle Jeff.
- Have you ever watched Brian Davis while he announces? Try it sometime. Just kind of glance over at him on press row while the game is going on. He’s motioning, he’s grabbing Grant Long’s arm like he’s Uncle Leo, he’s gesturing. It’s a show man. Brian Davis is really starting to grow on me. His enthusiasm is contagious.
- Thabo has kicked up his offensive game. Ten points, all coming in the first half. He makes great cuts at the bucket and finishes well. But how about his defense tonight? The block on Ryan Hollins was just tasty.
- HUGE thanks to everyone that came to the pregame party. We had an awesome turnout and for our grand prize gave away courtside tickets to the game. So if you didn’t come, you should have.
This game was a perfect restoration of confidence, both for the team and the fans. I almost can’t believe I had ANY doubts that OKC might slip a little. This team is good. It’s games like this where there’s a focus and an energy that good teams have. Coming off a tough back-to-back they take care of business – and I mean TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS – at home. It’s what Denver does. It’s what the Lakers do. It’s what Cleveland does.
Now I’m not saying this team is on that level, but when the engine is firing like it was tonight and Kevin Durant can kind of take a back seat role in the offense, this group is downright terrifying. Of course this was against a semi-hapless Minnesota squad, but this is the NBA and these are professional athletes. And Oklahoma City took it to them tonight.
Next up: Sunday at home against the Raptors.