There’s just something about Jeff Green and big plays against Atlanta. Last time, he did it at the rim on Josh Smith. This time, he did it 23 feet away from the tin over Josh Smith. I guess Phil Connors isn’t the only guy living the same nightmare on Groundhog Day.
The Thunder grabbed a 13-point lead late in the second half, but Joe Johnson absolutely took the world over, scoring 10 straight points and keying a 15-4 Atlanta run. With 1:50 left, Oklahoma City was holding a 97-93 lead. Russell Westbrook penetrated, pump faked and kicked to Kevin Durant. Durant had an open look but he deferred to the more open Green. And Uncle Jeff paid it off with a loud 3 to essentially seal the deal for OKC. I think Brian Davis put it best: “YES YES YES YES YES.”
And while Green’s shot was the play of the night because it locked things up, it’s notable that we might not have even been there had Russell Westbrook not skied over Al Horford and Josh Smith for two monstrous offensive rebounds. The two boards led to four points for OKC and put Westbrook one rebound and one assists away from a triple-double (12 points, nine rebounds, nine assists).
Oh yeah, and Kevin Durant. It’s time to get serious about this MVP stuff. No more joking around, kind of just mumbling and thinking about it. Kevin Durant is absolutely in the conversation. After checking back in with OKC leading by six with 8:30 left in the game, Durant missed his first three shots. I was worried he was going to come up short in crunch time again. But he hit back-to-back jumpers when the Thunder absolutely needed it most, finished with six in the quarter and even more importantly, came up with two of the game’s biggest assists. Simply put, he led his team to a win. He’s just other-worldly. He’s one of the five best players in the league and I don’t care what you say. It’s true.
And while we’re acknowledging big crunch time performances, give Thabo Sefolosha some major credit. You want Exhibit P for Thabo’s Defensive Player of the Year case? Watch him defend Joe Johnson the last six minutes of tonight’s game. As mentioned, Johnson was taking over. But after struggling a bit defensively for about 42 minutes, Thabo tightened up the laces and locked down. Johnson went 0-2 from the field the last six minutes with a big turnover forced by Sefolosha. Thabo’s value can’t always be calculated, but without his man-to-man D, OKC doesn’t win. Plain and simple. I guess this would fall under “Total Team Victory.”
- KD is now tied for the NBA scoring lead with Carmelo Anthony. His beautiful line tonight: 33 points on 9-18 shooting, 14-14 from the line (12-12 in the first half), 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
- I haven’t mentioned what might be the most important development of the night: Brian Davis said James Harden is considering shaving his beard. As one reader tweeted me, “That’s NOT Thunder basketball.”
- Serge Ibaka is really getting the hang of shot blocking. We knew he could, but he’s figuring out timing and how to keep his body away from fouling. He had two fantastic swats tonight, but also had eight points on 4-5 shooting and four rebounds in just 16 minutes. He’s been just huge off the bench the last three months.
- When KD took that awkward spill in the first quarter, I threw up. On first look, it appeared bad. But it wasn’t at all. And then James Harden fell awkwardly in the second quarter. NO MORE AWKWARD FALLS GUYS K THANX.
- Westbrook misses a good amount of layups without hitting any rim. He hasn’t quite figured out touch at the rim. To get those down where you’re running full speed and trying to float it over a 6-10 guy, you’ve got to put it up softly. Russ hasn’t quite gotten that one yet. He’s decent when he hangs for a minute, but when he’s full tilt at the rim, he doesn’t really know how to take some of the momentum out of the shot.
- Can Nenad Krstic play against Atlanta every game? Big time third quarter for the Serbian. He finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes and played some really solid interior defense.
- Rapper Xzibit was in the house tonight. Yo dawg, I heard you liked Thunder basketball, so we put this plaque in that says, ‘That’s Thunder basketball.’ I spent far longer than I’d like to admit trying to come up with a joke there. I don’t think I landed it.
- Jeff Green just makes big plays. Like I keep saying, he’s just a winning basketball player. Nineteen points, six rebounds and 3-4 from 3.
- James Harden makes excellent cuts. He times it well, is ready for a pass and is decisive when he gets it. This is what people are talking about when they talk about his “feel” for the game. He’s just savvy and really understands basketball. I thought it would be important for Harden to match Jamal Crawford’s bench production. Harden: nine points, two assists. Crawford: nine points, two assists. Mission accomplished.
- Very important stat: OKC turned the ball over just seven times and only twice in the second half. That’s big time. Westbrook had a sexy 9:1 ratio.
- And the Thunder outrebounded Atlanta 45-35. I wish I were keeping track but that’s like 25-5 or something when outrebounding their opponent. Oh, and related: OKC is 23-7 when leading going into the fourth quarter and 15-5 at home.
- OKC went 10-18 from 16 to 23 feet. The Thunder’s offense is pretty good when they’re hitting jumpers. But then again, I guess everybody’s offense is pretty good under that circumstance.
- After Kevin Durant hoisted a stand-still covered 3 right before halftime, I said, “Why would he take that?” Mrs. DT immediately replied with, “He thought he would make it.” That’s what you call going inside the game. Hardcore basketball analysis folks.
Six games over and 3-1 on this homestand. That’s big time. The Thunder’s got a big game in New Orleans tomorrow night and then two more on the road in the next seven days. So there’s still some major work to do. But this is a sweet win. Atlanta is one of the best teams in the league and Oklahoma City just notched a season sweep over them. We all knew this game would be fun with the young talent on the floor and it was. But what made it a blast was the fact the Thunder won. Funny how it works like that.
Next up: At New Orleans tomorrow night.