Oklahoma City has kind of gotten a reputation for being a good third quarter team this year. But coming out of the locker room 12-12 from the floor and shooting 88 percent for the quarter? That’s kind of sort of ridiculous.
Good thing too, because the Thunder didn’t bring their signature defense tonight, as the Jazz scored 111 points on 51 percent shooting, but OKC had the offense firing (60 percent from the floor) as Kevin Durant dropped 35 and Russell Westbrook had 30 points and 11 assists, leading the Thunder to their fifth straight win, 119-111 over Utah.
The last time the young Thunder came into a buzzworthy game where there was a real importance to it, they didn’t show up. They were blasted by the Nuggets and had a look to them that didn’t feel great. Overwhelmed, anxious, nervous – you pick the word. Tonight was the exact opposite. This team was focused. They were hungry. They were locked in and on a mission. If you’re not a believer yet, it’s time to start. This Thunder team is going places. Where exactly that is, I have no clue. But I put a ceiling on them before the season and the roof was blown completely off. I’m not making the same mistake again.
The best part too, was that the Thunder’s two young stars carried the load. Kevin Durant started the game 0-3 and didn’t look like he has his feathery jumper in his pocket. But then he hit his next three shots and throughout the course of the game, mutated into Durantula, the superhuman being that devours defenders in every way possible – inside, outside, off the dribble, midrange, at the free throw line – it didn’t matter how you tried to defend him, it wasn’t going to work. Durant finished with 35 on 10-17 shooting and went 13-13 from the line. My favorite bucket of the night was the 3 he hit late in the shot clock in the fourth, which immediately after he ripped the cords, he turned around and slapped hands with his brother who was sitting right behind where KD hit the shot. That was cool.
Now, Russell Westbrook. I don’t know where you feel like ranking him in the arbitrary lists of best point guards in the league, but if it’s not sniffing the top five, you’re crazy. Deron Williams was great tonight (27 points, 14 assists). But Westbrook was better. He owned this game. Scoring 30 points on 12-16 shooting was great. The 11 assists were wonderful. But Westbrook was a bulldog. Westbrook is one of the most physical point guards in the league. When you go against him, it’ll like getting in a bar fight. He will beat you up and by the time of the final horn, you’ll likely have a few bruises, a busted lip or all of the above. Some might say that Williams abused Westbrook and in some ways, yes. Russ had a lot of problems guarding Williams. But at the same time, Westbrook completely abused Williams as well. He beat him up, torched him time and again and because he was the better point man tonight, his team won. If you’re not excited about this head-to-head matchup in the Northwest Division for the next 10 years, you must hate America.
- The Jazz gave away a bunch of points at the stripe tonight (22-34). Had they hit free throws, this thing might have been tight.
- Let me get the obligatory mention of how the Jazz didn’t have three players tonight (Kirilenko, Price and Okur). Yes, they would have made a difference. But would it have changed the outcome? I guess we’ll have to wait until next time to find out.
- Bridging over from the second quarter into the third, OKC hit 14 consecutive shots at one point.
- Kyrylo Fesenko had to be a little frustrated tonight. He went 1-4 on dunks and was blocked on three attempts. Serge Ibaka got two of them.
- Speaking of, the Thunder bench was huge. Only 14 points came from the bench, but Ibaka had six boards and played great interior defense. Nick Collison was his usual excellent self. And Eric Maynor had six points, two assists and five rebounds. Overall, the bench made a huge difference.
- Only Kevin Durant can step to the line as 18,000+ people chant M-V-P at the top of their lungs and knock down two clutch free throws with a huge grin across his face. That was one of the special moments from this season that I’m going to put in the memory banks.
- Nenad Krstic with 13 points on 5-8 shooting. OKC is now 23-3 when he scores 10+.
- Two extra things about Westbrook: 1) It’s amazing how many people still think Russell Westbrook can’t shoot. He is a really good midrange shooter now. If you leave him open from 14 feet and in, he’ll make it with consistency. He’s in love with his PUJIT (Pull Up Jumper In Transition) and he makes them at a good clip. 2) A large reason for Westbrook’s big leap in his percentage at the rim is because his left hand has come a long, long way. Last season, he was a one-handed finisher. This year, he can go at the tin with both. That is a big reason for his improvement around the iron.
- OKC’s offensive efficiency was a ridiculous 129.3 tonight. That’s pretty insane.
- One awesome KD play from tonight: Right before the half, Durant had the ball at the top of the key and pulled out an MJ-against-Bird-esque between-the-legs multiple times before knocking down a beautiful 20-foot jumper. It was gorgeous.
- The underrated player of the night award goes to Thabo. He had 13 points and six rebounds, hit a monster 3 and was just everywhere on the floor. His bounce pass on the break to Westbrook in the first half was excellent.
- Kyle Weaver made a very Kyle Weaver play in the first quarter with a block on Korver. He really is an excellent defender. Much like Thabo, he uses his length extremely well to make his opponent think he can’t get off his shot. He’s not comfortable or confident as an offensive player, but he’s got a future. He’s just a heady player.
- Deron Williams hair. I feel like there needs to be more discussion about this.
- Durant busted out the rip move twice tonight and Jerry Sloan nearly lost his stuff after the second one.
- Players knew the importance of this one. It was physical, players griped at officials more than usual and there was a real intensity to it.
I’ve said all along the Thunder just match up well with Utah. The Jazz have problems matching OKC’s speed, athleticism and length. Not taking away from the Jazz, but they stayed as close as they did because they were lights out from 3 (11-19). The Thunder held a 6-12 point lead for the majority of the game and honestly, at times it didn’t feel that close. OKC was just focused and ready. This game really illustrates how important it would be for the Thunder to get home court advantage in the first round. The difference in their confidence and attitude at home tonight against the Jazz compared to a hostile road environment against the Nuggets was night and day. And tonight’s win will go a long way in getting the Thunder to that spot. Now just a half game back of the Jazz with the tiebreaker in hand. Life is good.
Next up: At Charlotte Wednesday night.