Some people out there are calling for a Blazers-Thunder playoff series. I vote no on that. I think it’s very likely I’d die mid-way through Game 3.
I don’t know what it is when these teams hook up, but so far, we’ve seen two absolute classics. And they were pretty darn similar games too. In Portland, the Thunder played fairly atrocious defense for about 42 minutes, then locked in. And it was more of the same Friday night in Oklahoma City.
The Blazers shot 63 percent in and scored 65 points in the first half. But the Thunder tightened the screws again and more importantly, Portland finally started missing some of those tough shots that were falling earlier. OKC held the Blazers to 43 in the second half, secured a number of critical stops late in the fourth and eventually pulled out a win after Rudy Fernandez’s game-winning 3-pointer clanged off the iron.
Wait, am I still talking about defense? Forget that. Let’s talk a little about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook here.
First, Durant. After KD sunk that leaning jumper over Nicolas Batum with a minute left to put OKC up five, there was nothing to say. There was really nothing to think. We’ve seen Durant take over and make plays when he had to, but man, that was maybe his best takeover yet. He netted four straight baskets for the Thunder and turned a one point deficit into a five point lead in two minutes. It was almost stunning how effortlessly he took the game over. It was all KD, right in the biggest moments. When he starts doing that sort of thing, I almost want to start kissing strangers on the mouth. Nothing is prettier.
Now, Westbrook. Friday was Russ’s 22nd birthday so of course he scored a career-high 36 points. Naturally, that’s how we do things ’round here. But with Jeff Green out, OKC really didn’t have a third reliable guy to get points from. KD was going to get his usual 30. But in order for the Thunder to keep in it, points were going to have to come from somewhere. So for a second straight game, Westbrook rose up. Everything about Westbrook’s game was nearly perfect. His mid-range jumper was stellar. He got to the rim and finished. He made all the right choices when it came to firing from 15 feet or attacking the basket. He got teammates involved (seven assists), but at the same time, always seemed to sense exactly when he needed to look for his own. And he hit a huge 3-pointer. Westbrook started the game off with a steal and a dunk and it was just a sign of things to come for him. If you’re making me pick between KD and Russ as to who gets tonight’s game ball, I’m pulling a King Solomon and cutting it in half.
Lost though in Durant and Westbrook’s freaking outstanding games was the job Thabo Sefolosha did on Brandon Roy in the last six minutes. While most of the Thunder team wasn’t playing much of anything resembling defense, Thabo worked throughout the night. But with Roy shooting the ball well, Thabo really latched on and forced a handful of really tough shots for Portland’s go-to scorer. Thabo had just two points compared to Westbrook and KD’s combined 70, but honestly, he played an equally vital role. So split that ball three ways I guess.
- Durant: 13-21 (8-12 in the second half), 3-6 from 3, 5-6 from the line for 34 points. Now that’s a Kevin Durant game.
- James Harden provided a large lift in the first half with 12 points. Now he finished the game with just 12, but a lot of that was due to Scott Brooks hanging with Thabo on Brandon Roy. But Harden’s 12 first half points are more than he’s scored in any full game so far this year.
- Serge Ibaka was again stellar. He was big in the first half and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. And look at what LaMarcus Aldridge did tonight. Just 10 points on 5-10 shooting. Plus, Ibaka’s presence inside really affected Andre Miller and Brandon Roy in getting to the rim late.
- An underrated gold star goes to Nenad Krstic who played 36 minutes and scored 12 big points on 5-9 shooting. Some of Krstic’s jumpers in the third really felt like they kept OKC in it.
- After Portland closed the third on a 7-0 run to take an 87-84 lead into the fourth and then they started on a 5-0 run to go up eight, I figured it was over. But man, that resilient OKC bunch fought back. The Blazers have to feel like they let two games slip away against OKC though.
- Twenty assists for OKC in this one! A season-high!
- Don’t get me wrong, the Thunder was pretty bad defensively in this one. They didn’t stop the ball, they didn’t defend the man in front of them and they gave up some easy buckets. But a lot of Portland’s success was due to them making some really tough shots too.
- D.J. White played a little in this one instead of Cole Aldrich. I really thought White was decent and then I looked at his line: seven minutes, zero points, zero rebounds, zero blocks, zero assists, one turnover and one foul. But still, I felt like he was all right.
- Westbrook is such an aggressive offensive player. It’s weird, because we all accept him as a point guard now, but he’s probably playing less like one than ever. Not that that’s a bad thing. He’s playing fantastic basketball. But Westbrook isn’t a point guard right now. His position is “playmaker,” if that makes sense. I don’t think he has an order of operations in his head. It’s not like he’s shoot first, pass second or vice versa, he’s just “MAKE BASKETBALL PLAYS” first, nothing second.
- In that same regard though, at times Westbrook looks like he’s trying a little hard to be too great of a playmaker. I think he’s taking it upon himself for this team to share the ball and get going offensively. That’s the job of a point guard, but sometimes he forces the issue. That’s nitpicking though because Westbrook is playing so, so great.
- How about Ibaka’s little up-and-under in the first quarter? He missed, but it made me yip quietly to myself.
- Also, something slightly interesting: That kick-out from Serge Ibaka to KD for 3 was Ibaka’s first assist of the season.
Much in the same way the last win over the Blazers couldn’t be underestimated in how large it was, this one can’t either. This Thunder team is becoming a clutch bunch of dudes. Big plays in big moments. Big stops. Big shots. And it equaled a big win.
Of course this win doesn’t automatically forgive the three awful performances in their losses or the porous defense early in this game, but if we’re learning anything, it’s that this Thunder team is still very good. Any fears you had last week about this team should be dissolving. These boys can still play folks. They aren’t there yet, and that’s really what makes them so damn scary.
Next up: The Spurs at home Sunday night.