I don’t think there’s any argument against the fact that Oklahoma City had no business winning this game. The Thunder shot under 39 percent, went down by 14 in the third quarter, Kevin Durant didn’t shoot the ball well and Roy Hibbert kind of looked like Patrick Ewing against OKC.
But that was all in the first 42 minutes or so. Because the last 11 (overtime included), the Thunder played like they HAD to win this game. They got the big stops. They got the big rebounds. They hit the big shots. I feel like it’s becoming a strange theme to say, “I have no clue how the Thunder won this game” but, I have no clue how the Thunder won this game.
Oh here’s one way: Russell Freaking Westbrook. (That’s actually his real middle name if you didn’t know.) A career-high 43 points on 13-24 shooting, eight assists, eight rebounds, three steals and one massively massive play after another. Pick your word to describe OKC’s point guard. Beast. Monster. Fire breathing dragon. Death Star (OK, that one didn’t really make sense). Westbrook was all of that and more in this one.
Kevin Durant is Oklahoma City’s best player. There’s no doubt. But 16 games into the 2010-11 season, Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s Most Valuable Player. There’s also no doubt. Without him, OKC is under .500 and probably playing some of the most embarrassingly awful offense ever known to James Naismith’s wonderful creation. But with Westbrook, the Thunder always has a chance no matter how bad they’re shooting, passing or playing. He can always bail them out.
Against the Pacers, the Thunder offense wasn’t really that bad in terms of spacing and movement. It was bad because there were a ton of dumb shots taken. It basically turned into a “Get out of the way and let Russ score” type of game. Which is really the best (and only) solution when KD has one of these random, awful nights where nothing falls. If Russ doesn’t take over, OKC literally has nothing to rely on offensively. Most of the time, that well dries up and OKC comes up short. But this time, KD found his game when the Thunder needed him, scored a handful of big buckets late and that’s what pushed OKC over the top. Westbrook took them to the edge and Durant pushed them over it.
These types of games are so big for KD’s evolution, despite him playing kind of horrible. With about a minute and a half left in the game, I told my wife that one thing I’m not sure Durant has in him quite yet is that Kobe Bryant mentality that it doesn’t matter if you’re 3-34 in a game, you’re 0-0 taking the next shot. Bryant is the best there is about forgetting about how things are going and stepping up and hitting three huge jumpers despite being missing 28 in the first 46 minutes of the game. And wouldn’t you know, KD dropped in an and-one right about the same time I finished the sentence. Then he followed that up with three large jumpers in overtime. Durant has the ability to step up when he has to. And that’s so, so important.
- Durant finished the night with 25 points on 9-26 shooting and 1-8 from 3. At one point in the first half, he missed 10 straight shots. And honestly, it was really because they were mostly stupid, forced shots. But any time KD is shooting poorly, it pains me so much. I have to quit worrying about him constantly. I feel like his dad or something. When the ball is in flight, i want it to go in so bad.
- Russ may be the current MVP of the team, but Durant stepped up with two MVP-style plays late in regulation. Roy Hibbert was torching the Thunder inside so Indiana went down low to the big man. Hibbert caught the ball twice on the block and looked to have a pretty much automatic four points. Except Durant rose up and stuffed him twice. Just two incredible plays for the Thunder’s leader. Those are the types of things that MVPs do. When it’s not working for you in one aspect, make a difference somewhere else. And KD did.
- Indiana basically gift-wrapped OKC’s comeback. In the third, the Thunder trailed by 14 but found an 11-0 run because the Pacers turned it over six times in three minutes. Thanks, Pacers!
- I kept waiting for Indiana’s five-point lead to turn to 10. Then I thought their three-point lead would be seven. Then when it was tied at 83-83 with six minutes left, I kept waiting for a 6-0 Indy run. But the Thunder hung tough by cranking up the defense and closing on the Pacers’ good shooters. That’s how you win when you’re playing really terrible. We pretty much saw the blueprint for it tonight.
- For most of the night, it was clear the team was really frustrated with themselves. They were playing really hard, but it just wasn’t happening. It was like they couldn’t understand it. But that’s ultimately what won it for them. They never, ever stopped playing.
- OKC had just 14 assists in this one (12 coming from Jeff Green and Westbrook) but that was largely because nobody could make a freaking shot.
- Jeff Green, much like Durant, didn’t play that well in an offensive sense. He was 4-16 from the field and had 16 points. But Green grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds (five offensive) and was kind of great on Hibbert late in the game. Green hurt his groin late in the game and appeared to be in a lot of pain, but stepped up and hit two big free throws and hung in there before fouling out. Quite a gutsy performance from Green.
- Serge Ibaka started for Nenad Krstic who was out with a sore back. Ibaka was pretty much entirely ineffective against Hibbert. He played just 16 minutes and had one rebound. Can we all agree he’s not a center yet? Props to Scott Brooks for recognizing the issue and fixing his rotation.
- In fact, Byron Mullens came in to try and play defense on Hibbert. Let me say that again: Byron Mullens came in to try and play defense on Hibbert. That was the kind of game this was. However, Mullens entered when OKC was down 14 and then went on an 11-0 run after he checked in. Really, Mullens played an excellent two minutes. He absolutely worked his butt off in his short time on the floor and broke some of Indiana and Hibbert’s momentum. You’ve got to love when a benchwarmer get his chance, albeit small, and makes a difference.
- Speaking of, D.J. White was big too. The box score doesn’t show it, but he played a solid six minutes tonight.
- Also, I couldn’t help but wonder if Aldrich would’ve done as well as Mullens in those same two minutes in that same situation. Hmm.
- Instead of the NBA making a point to emphasize complaining by calling technical fouls, they need an emphasis on not calling fouls when a player pumps, get his defender in the air, jumps directly into him, but still doesn’t draw contact, but then flails anyway and gets a two-shot foul call. Can we fix that one please?
- Grant Long said he never complains about officiating. Yeah and Brian Davis never says things that make absolute no sense either. Durant butters up his pie and takes a bite of the Christmas stocking! (I made that one up, but he probably said something similar tonight.)
- One more good point about Long via Twitterer @olddirtymath: “I like how Grant Long thinks any foul is a ‘good foul’ when the guy shooting the free throws misses one of them.”
- Roy Hibbert just looks so terrible at basketball.
- In the fourth quarter, Thabo talked the officials into reversing a call where Granger kicked the ball out. What emphasis on complaining? And what did they say about how it never does any good?
- Danny Granger was only 2-9 from 3? I could’ve sworn he was like 8-11.
- It’s going to be nice when James Harden finally starts playing consistently on the offensive end and starts adding something. That’s going to be sweet.
- Westbrook is really the only Thunderer that is consistently good every single game. Even nights where Russ is 3-14 with 12 points, he still played a nice game. It’s probably because he plays so dang hard, but you can always count on something productive from Westbrook.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got another “There’s a lot to complain about but hey, at least we won” type of games on our hands. And as long as they keep winning, that stuff matters less and less. It might mean that I could very well die by the end of the season, but wins are sweet no matter how you come about them.
This Pacers team isn’t a bad group. And the Thunder needed a win on the road against them. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t ideal. But it got done.
Next up: At the Rockets Sunday night.