This game secretly worried me. A big tilt against Denver was on the horizon, the Kings aren’t a marquee opponent and the Thunder had cruised fairly easily in their last two. There was a lot of reason to come out unfocused, uninspired and unready.
And they were guilty of all three. On one end, at least.
The Thunder didn’t bring the calling-card defensive intensity they’ve become known for tonight, allowing the Kings to 107 points on 54 percent shooting. But the offense was clicking once again, keyed by Russell Westbrook’s 30 points and 13 assists and Kevin Durant’s 39 points, as Oklahoma City squeaked one out, 113-107.
There are multiple things to be flustered about from this one if you’re a Thunder fan. The aforementioned defense. The absolute stinker the Thunder bench turned in (15 points, 10 rebounds total). The lapse in focus at times. But the good news is, it’s a win. And when you’re battling for a playoff spot and now playoff seeding, just winning is kind of sort of good enough. OKC didn’t play its best game – far, far from it – but the Thunder had more points than the other guy when the clock read zero and that’s what matters.
I realize a lot of this has to do with the opponent, but it really feels like Oklahoma City is hitting an offensive stride – 113, 119 and 109 in the last three games, all three with the Thunder shooting over 50 percent from the floor. The ball is moving, Russell Westbrook is playing absolutely stellar basketball and guys like Nenad Krstic are stepping up in a big way (14 points, nine rebounds).
When Krstic plays well, OKC has a pretty dynamic offense. There’s a real inside-out quality to the sets and Westbrook has a bailout option if his first look is shut down. Again, a lot of this has to do with OKC playing Minnesota, Toronto and Sacramento the last three. I realize this. But it feels like OKC is playing with a confidence and a swagger, and really hitting a stride. Sometimes putting in games like this boosts the confidence and makes a difference down the line. We know the Thunder can defend. But they’re really cranking it up offensively lately.
- Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha combined for 69 of OKC’s 113 total points tonight. Durant and Westbrook had 69 of those.
- The Thunder may not have played good defense tonight, but they took care of the ball, especially late. OKC didn’t turn it over in the fourth and good thing too. And extra possession or two for the Kings could have made this a bad, bad loss.
- Same could be said for the free throw shooting too. OKC went 28-32 from the stripe, but if they had struggled, you might be reading an angry recap.
- OKC had three alley oops tonight. That’s got to be a season-high. Russell Westbrook threw up an oop to Serge Ibaka late in the first quarter. It was very Chris Paul-ish to Tyson Chandler-ish. We haven’t seen many lobs this year from the Thunder, but I have a feeling we’ll see more of this connection in the very near future.
- James Harden is an improved defender, but there was an obvious difference between Thabo on Tyreke Evans and Harden on Evans. Evans finished with 27 on 7-17 shooting (13-17 from the line) and a lot of that was with Harden on him. Jimbo Slice isn’t a bad defender, but he wasn’t ready for the brute straightforward style of Evans.
- As a whole, OKC’s reserves got torched, giving up a 19-4 run in the first half. The four Thunder bench players were a -13, -10, -6 and -15. The Thunder starters were all in the double-digit positives.
- How many other point guards would you trade Russell Westbrook for in this league right now? One? None? He’s playing awesome right now and I don’t think he’s anywhere near his ceiling. I think this is just a small leap in his progression. 30-13-5 is a monstrous game and once again, he controlled every aspect of it.
- Another thing about Westbrook: He’s absolutely one of the most entertaining players in the league. I don’t know if there’s a guy I’d rather watch fly in the open court. He’s making no-look passes, plays above the rim and is always a threat to do SOMETHING on the offensive end. He’s just a treat to watch.
- Kevin Durant with 39 on 13-26 shooting and 10 rebounds. He’s a good basketballer.
- How about that runner Westbrook hit right before halftime? Brian Davis was calling for a foul (there was none), but the degree of difficult was definitely high on it.
- Speaking of, Davis and Grant Long spent a good minute talking about books they are currently reading. It was not the highlight of the broadcast for me.
- Nick Collison made some big plays off the bench (seven rebounds), but he’s really the only guy that saw extended minutes. Ibaka only played seven. Maynor five. Harden was in foul trouble and only played 16.
- Harden Headband Watch: Did not wear one tonight.
- You know that Cox commercial I said I hated last week? They played it TWICE IN A ROW tonight. I hate you FS Oklahoma. You did that just to spite me. I know it.
- How many times has Russell Westbrook come up with a HUGE offensive rebound inside a minute this year? Four times? Five? It’s kind of becoming a signature play.
- Thunder move to 21-2 against teams currently .500 or worse. Only the Lakers (20-1) are better.
Anything less than 3-0 on this homestand would have been disappointing. And Oklahoma City did exactly what needed to be done. Two blowouts and one closer-than-it-should-have-been. It sets up a pretty big game in Denver tomorrow night against a surging Nuggets squad. The Thunder haven’t played well in the Pepsi Center and the fact its a second of a back-to-back is disconcerting, but I think they’ll be ready. Maybe that’s why they took so many possessions off tonight. Like the Jonas Brothers, maybe they were just saving themselves.
Next up: At Denver Wednesday night.