With about two minutes left, the confetti person accidentally jumped the gun. With the Thunder trailing, blue and orange paper came down from the rafters and play was held up as the floor was cleared. Everybody was thinking the same thing: Nice jinx confetti guy.
Instead, it was just foreshadowing. He had it right all along.
Of course he got some help from Kevin Durant, who knocked down a fading 3-pointer as time expired. Thunder 101, New York 98. Celebrate good times, come on.
Durant said he went up behind Scott Brooks during the last timeout and tapped him on the shoulder. Despite being 10-24 before that which included missing a good amount of good, open looks, Durant wanted the ball. Brooks said Durant wanted to be the man, regardless of struggles “KD said, ‘Give me the ball.’ Not that I wasn’t going to give him the ball though.”
And KD got it. The play wasn’t perfect, but Durant got single coverage, moved to his right and used his ridiculous length to launch a jumper over Danilo Gallinari. There are just a few players that can knock that down and KD is one of them. Durant said it was a relief to see it go down. And something that can build confidence too.
While KD’s beautiful buzzer-beater is obviously the story, the only way the Thunder got there was because of stellar second half defense. After giving up 60 points the first 24 minutes, the Thunder held the high powered Knicks to just 38 in the second half, which included only two points the final two minutes. The Thunder trailed by six and eight a lot of the fourth but started getting a few stops at a time. One stop here, another there. It didn’t seem like they’d be able to get the necessary ones, especially after the Knicks came up with two big offensive boards late. But they stayed in it and got two big ones with under 30 seconds left. That’s the only reason KD had the opportunity to be a hero tonight.
Scott Brooks talked after the game about adjustments and probably the biggest and most important one he made was going with one of the Thunder’s best lineups down the home stretch. He had Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Ibaka and Collison on the floor to defend New York’s pick-and-roll game. It worked well, forcing the Knicks into long jumpers and also meant that the Thunder crushed the glass. OKC shot just 38.6 percent in this game but outrebounded the Knicks 57-40, including 22 offensive rebounds. Ibaka had a career-high 15. Collison grabbed six, five offensive, KD pulled in 12.
Between the work on the glass and the second half defense, the Thunder stayed in the game. The Knicks really outplayed the Thunder, but OKC outworked them. Now if only we could see this for a full 48 minutes we might be getting somewhere.
- What my lede actually was in my head: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Woo.
- I found it really interesting that Brooks opened his post-game comments not talking about KD’s shot, but instead about the first half defense, calling it “embarrassing.” He’s right. It was. Truly, truly awful.
- Brooks, obviously not happy about the first half defense said he got on his guys pretty good at halftime. “My mom would not be very happy with what I said.”
- Again, loved the lineup late. It’s one that we need to see more of in situations like this. Brooks knew that the offensive glass was what was keeping his team in it and he needed someone to defend Stoudemire in the pick-and-roll. And nobody is better on the team at that than Nick Collison.
- It was interesting though that the last two defensive possessions Brooks went back to Jeff Green and Thabo, putting them in for Harden and Ibaka. It was a smart move because Brooks guessed right in what New York wanted to do. The Knicks wanted to space the floor and use Felton trying to create off a few ball screens. Collison had Amar’e all the way, but Green was there to help off and Thabo, who is a better rebounder than Harden, to help secure the board. It worked, as OKC got two stops and two rebounds.
- KD’s post-game comments:
- I’ve got to say this though: Jeff Green is really becoming more and more insignificant by the day. He’s a good crunch-time player that can make some nice plays and hit big shots, but he’s just unimportant. Where is he supposed to fit in during a game like this? I mean he was on the floor for the last two plays and I liked having him as an option for the last shot, but he just didn’t really have a place in defending the Knicks. He played just 28 minutes, which I think was about right. Maybe Brooks is finally figuring out a way to use Green as more of a role player, which is something he’s pretty good at.
- Continuing on with that point: Green was pretty good in the third quarter keeping OKC close. He worked in the post, grabbed some rebounds and played quality defense. But again, it was just for a stretch. I really think it’s becoming more obvious that Green needs to anchor that second unit. He can still start, but his minutes need to come when he’s the first option on the floor. And then when the matchups make sense and he can make a quality impact. I hope we see a little more of what we saw tonight.
- In that third quarter, Nenad Krstic was really good. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds and did a lot of good work in the third.
- Ibaka, huge. This was one of Ibaka’s best games. This is how he needs to play nightly. I’d rather have this aggression on the glass over the aggressive swatting shots. Or both. That would be nice.
- A weird night for Russell Westbrook. He had 28 points on 15 shots (14-17 from the free throw line!) dished five assists and grabbed five rebounds. He was really good, except he’s sort of forgotten. Game-winners can do that.
- Stoudemire: 18 points on 7-18 shooting. Bravo Nick Collison. Bravo.
- I like Matt Moore’s new nickname for Serge Ibaka: “Serge Imidrangejumpaka.”
- Tonight was Rumble’s birthday and all the mascots came. Mascots are weird.
- Hey, Daequan Cook! This was Cook’s first action since Nov. 12. Brooks said he didn’t plan on playing him but wanted to reward him for a great two weeks of practice. Cook has been disappointing, but has always stayed extremely positive. Brooks said Cook “earned it” tonight. He went 0-2, but I’m fine trying to work him back into the rotation.
- Before the game, I noticed Cook was in uniform so I watched him. He hit eight straight 3s and knocked down probably 90 percent of what he took.
- Amar’e Stoudemire on Westbrook’s 17 free throws and that last foul: “I thought the foul was actually on Westbrook. He went to the line 17 times. I just did not see how. That was not the game plan for us. If you allow a player like that to go to the line 17 times, they are probably going to win the ball game.”
- What’s up with Ibaka kissing the ball after free throws? Has he always been doing that?
- And why does James Harden fall down on every jumper now?
- I loved KD’s reaction to the game-winner. So smooth. He walked calmly like it was nothing, then cracked a sly grin. I asked him after the game about it and he said, “I didn’t know what to do.” I told him it reminded me a bit of a Larry Bird reaction, just knowing you’re good. KD seemed to like that. Don’t worry though, it was smooth.
- Not smooth: I was talking to Durant in the hallway as he was walking back to the court. As we were talking about his reaction, I dropped my phone and the cover went flying off. KD bent over and picked it up for me. Needless to say, I was not smooth.
The Thunder snaps a two-game losing streak, finds some defense and KD hits a game-winner at home? I, I don’t know what to do right now. Know this: If you see a guy running down Reno with his shirt off screaming incoherently, just ignore me. We all celebrate in our own way.
Next up: At the Hornets Monday.