Go ahead and set this one to “Do Not Erase” on your DVR. It was one of Those Games.
Not only was the game itself terrific, but players played terrific. Kevin Durant went for 36 on 13-17 shooting (!), Russell Westbrook picked up a triple-double (32-13-10 and only one turnover) (!) and as a team, the Thunder shot 56.4 percent from the field.
And they held on to beat the Magic, one of the best teams in the league. The Thunder’s been lacking a few big statement wins and they got one tonight on national TV with their best players playing some of their best games. When I go to sleep tonight I’m putting this game on in the background.
It had the big plays — KD’s runner to ice it, a classic Jeff Green 3 for his defenders to put in their pocket to defend him with in four days when people are bashing him, Serge Ibaka’s back-to-back blocks — but it also had some seriously good, mature basketball from the Thunder. They held onto the lead pretty much the entire second half, working it up to 12 at one point, but Orlando is just to good to really blow out. But OKC never slumped. It never went through a lull. There was a good amount of focus for the full 48. Good thing, because there really wasn’t an opportunity to relax in this one.
In terms of offense, I don’t think it gets a whole lot better than this. The shooting was phenomenal, but it was more than that. The Thunder assisted on 24 of the 44 baskets, moved the ball wonderfully and executed extremely well in the halfcourt. OKC picked good spots to run, but the way the Thunder worked the ball was just excellent. The Thunder had an assist on their first five makes, kind of setting a tone. And it’s cool to do shoot 56 percent and score 125 points against the Magic because that mean Stan Van Gundy is going to yell at his team for two and half hours after this one. That’s nice to know.
In terms of defense, it wasn’t great. But to me, it was better than you think. Yes, Orlando scored 124 points. Yes, Dwight Howard scored 39. Yes, the Magic went 14-28 from 3. But Orlando shot 45.6 percent from the field and take away Howard’s ridiculous night at the free throw line and the Magic don’t net as many points. The Magic can shoot 3s as good as anyone, but 14-28 is kind of ridiculous, even for them.
That said, the perimeter defense was abhorrent. Watching Orlando’s guards penetrate, sucking in three Thunder defenders, and then kick out to a wide open marksman made me want to do a bellyflop onto a bed of hot coals. I understand helping and rotating, but at some point you’ve just got to stay with your man, especially if he’s a freaking excellent shooter. There’s where you rely on Serge Ibaka to rotate over and protect the rim if a guard beats his man. The Magic stayed in this game because of the 3-pointer and OKC just let them shoot it.
- Nenad Krstic, excellent. He had nine rebounds in the first six minutes and finished with his first double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, seven of them offensive. And this was against Dwight Howard, mind you. I actually thought Krstic did the best work on Howard too in the post, but Scott Brooks went with Serge Ibaka down the stretch.
- I assume the reasoning on going with Ibaka was because of the point I mentioned earlier. Brooks was probably counting on Ibaka to rotate and protect the rim so the Thunder defenders didn’t have to leave shooter. Obviously it didn’t really work that way, but I think that was the intent.
- Thabo Sefolosha was again huge on both ends. I think he’s gaining in the confidence department. He had nine points on 4-4 shooting and played pretty solid defense as well.
- I’m curious as to what the gallery thinks: Is this the best game of Russell Westbrook’s career? I’m not sure he’s ever been better.
- OKC gave up 38 points in the fourth. Yuck.
- KD started the game 7-8 in the first quarter and had 16 points. He really could’ve went for 50 tonight because he was obviously locked entirely in, but he just stayed in the flow of the game and played in rhythm. To score 36 on 17 shots is kind of ridiculous, but had he taken 22 or 23 shots, I think he would’ve topped his career-high. But that’s what’s so good about KD. He wasn’t thinking about that stuff at all.
- Of course Dwight Howard goes 17-20 against my team. Of course.
- Even with Howard grabbing 18 rebounds, OKC still won the boards 42-36. That stat’s a little misleading because the Thunder shot so well, but it’s still a good thing.
- OKC had a chance to really separate from Orlando early, but Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson were hot and kept the Magic close.
- Speaking of Anderson, I’m thinking he’s the heir apparent to Brad Miller. He needs a few trash tats and a headband and he’s there.
- Krstic won the tip against Howard. That was a good omen.
- I really like the Thunder being on national TV, but I wonder when we’ll get past the point of rehashing every nuance involved with the team. Hey, did you know it’s a college sports state and college sports fans bring that same mentality to the games?
- The Thunder’s now 34-6 over the past two seasons when Krstic scores 10 or more.
- And the obligatory mention: 15-3 in games decided by seven or less.
- I really hate how matchups are squeezing James Harden’s playing time. He was good in just 18 minutes, but that’s the problem. Only 18 minutes. Somehow Brooks has to figure out how to get him at least 25 a night. Thabo was extremely valuable in this one, no doubt, but Harden has got to get more burn.
- Does KD not have one of the prettiest jumpers you’ve ever seen. Silk really is the only way to describe it.
- Ibaka really struggled with Howard, but man did he work. Ibaka tried so hard to stop him, but Howard is just a monster.
- Only five turnovers for Orlando and nine for OKC. A very, very clean game for both teams.
To me, the Thunder doesn’t have to prove anything, but winning this game really does show that the Thunder’s capable of winning a big game with everyone watching. They’re still capable of losing a game to a mediocre team too, but these guys are definitely getting better. It’s obvious that they’re improving. Again, the defense was an issue, but when you play so well in all the other facets, you can get away with it. OKC’s building some momentum with four straight and like we’ve said all year, they aren’t a finished product yet. Which is definitely something to feel good about.
Next up: At the Lakers on TNT again Monday.