And the award for weirdest game of the season goes to… this one.
First things first – after getting a nasty cut over his right eye that required five stitches, Russell Westbrook absolutely owned the fourth quarter. He scored 13 of his 21 in crunch time and basically shouldered his team, leading Oklahoma City to a 108-102 win over Sacramento. But on to the strange stuff.
In the first half, the Thunder picked up three technical fouls. I’m guesstimating here, but I only remember two or three techs on the entire team so far this season. But Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant all were hit with the bad whistle. Sacramento really tried to dirty this game up with a little shoving, a little flopping, a few wild elbows and a few tough screens. And the Thunder didn’t appreciate it and I don’t think they appreciated the officiating crew not stepping in and cleaning up things a bit.
I don’t necessarily have a huge problem with the three tees, because while I don’t advocate for yelling at officials and I’m a fan of shutting up and playing ball, I am also aa fan of equality. How Andres Nocioni can stand and yell at Tommy Nunez for literally eight seconds and not get teed is beyond me. Then Durant mutters something to himself and bam, he gets nailed. It didn’t make sense to me. And I don’t think it made sense to the Thunder, which resulted in the visible frustration.
The Kings played it a little chippy all night, with Nocioni finally getting nailed for a flagrant late in the third. But I actually thought this was a positive for the young Thunder. They really haven’t been presented with many games where they needed to keep their composure. It was a good test and potentially a good preview for a big playoff series. Guys are going to get under your skin. There will be hard fouls. There will be elbows thrown. And through it all, you’ve got to keep your head.
Back to Westbrook: Moxie. Machismo. Guts. Stones. Whatever you want to call it, Russ has got some. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Westbrook is becoming an excellent clutch player that you absolutely want the ball in his hands late. He made three huge baskets inside of two minutes, pulled down one of his patented offensive rebounds and even grabbed a big defensive board. His final line: 21 points, four assists, eight rebounds and five stitches in 32 minutes.
- Tyreke Evans did pick up a technical foul late in the game after thinking he should have gotten an and-1. I don’t think he gets that tee if Durant doesn’t get his. I saw it as a makeup call, which I was happy about.
- Eric Maynor did a solid job of filling in for Westbrook for most of the third quarter. Four assists to one turnover, including a brilliant pass to Durant on a break for a dunk. He didn’t do anything overly flashy, but he was smart with the ball and got the rock to the people that could score. He really did exactly what you’d hope your backup point guard would do.
- James Harden had a big offensive first half. He had 14 points on 5-8 shooting, but that’s what he finished with. Harden didn’t score in the second and was 0-2. A lot of that was because Scott Brooks went a little more defensive minded, using Thabo on Evans and even going with a “big” lineup of Westbrook-Durant-Green-Collison-Krstic to close it out.
- Let it be noted though, that Harden did rock the headband tonight and of course, had a nice offensive night.
- With all the chippiness, I was a little shocked Serge didn’t get in a fight tonight.Though he did raise his elbows after Carl Landry and Jason Thompson wouldn’t get out of his face. Then he lost his head when Scott Brooks got on to him about it. He’s young though and he really hasn’t been in these situations.
- One thing on Ibaka, who played an excellent game (11 points, 5-6, five rebounds): He has great touch on his jumper. Perfect high release, perfect follow-through. It’s kind of surprising for a guy that’s as raw as him to have that kind of skill. It just tells you how high his ceiling is. He could easily be a pick-and-pop guy that consistently knocks down 15 footers.
- Hey! Thabo scored! Ten points in fact.
- Jeff Green just could not handle Carl Landry. He bit on every head fake, was beaten baseline a few times and just got muscled in the post. Though before you rip on Green, Carl Landry does this to a lot of people. He’s a really good low block scorer and uses his body extremely well.
- Arco Arena played Thunderstruck with 8:30 left in the fourth. I was all prepared to bust out an awesome stat how OKC outscored the Kings this to that to close the game, but after the song was played, the teams equaled each other 16-16. But you think the sound guy would have been told to maybe take that one off the playlist for this game.
- A perfect play that showcased KD’s basketball IQ: About five minutes left in the third, Ime Udoka checks in the game. Udoka really hasn’t guarded KD much. And on their first man-to-man matchup of the game, Durant busts out the rip move on him.
- Big stat: OKC won the boards 45-33.
- Nenad Krstic had 10 of those. He played a pretty nice game.
- That’s 38-24. That’s pretty fun to look at.
- Grant Long on Tyreke Evans: “I’m just a traditional guy. I like my point guard to be a pass first guy.” And yet, Russell Westbrook is the point guard he calls games for. Does not compute.
- I thought about doing this recap in an extremely lame and cliche way of, “Best Director… Best Performance” and so on. You’re welcome I didn’t.
- But seriously though, was this not a weird game? A ton of bad calls (both ways), near fisticuffs, technicals, flagrants and blood. Just wild stuff. But if you’re a Thunder fan, this ended the right way. I say it should get Best Original Screenplay. /couldn’t help myself
Like I said, I think this a great learning experience for this team. Of course you’re thrilled to get the win because that’s what is most important, but losing your head can often cost you a game. First, it gave up three points, which could’ve come back to bite them. Second, what if you lose your cool again and pick up a second? Does OKC win this game without Russell Westbrook? Without Durant? Without Green? What if Ibaka swings an elbow and picks up a flagrant, gives Sacto two points and then gets suspended? It’s things like this that Scott Brooks will have an opportunity to point out on the game film and teach on.
Next up: Big game Wednesday night at home against the Hornets.