After losing three straight for the first time this season, Oklahoma City bounced back in about the most perfect way possible, blowing past the Pacers 113-89.
Really, there was nothing wrong with the night as the defense dominated, the offense clicked and the team played with good level of intensity for four quarters. Except for the fact that Kevin Durant rolled his left ankle hard and eventually had to be helped off the floor. That part kind of sucked, a lot. I’d imagine Durant will miss a game or two. But try and forget that for now, because this win over Indiana is exactly what Thunder fans were looking for coming in.
(OK, I’ll admit, I haven’t forgotten about KD’s ankle. I’ve been thinking about it constantly. But let’s move on.)
It started early as OKC jumped out to a 10-0 lead and held the Pacers scoreless for the first four-plus minutes. James Harden was terrific in the first half, dropping 17 of his 20 total points in just 11 first half minutes. There’s no doubt that Harden is really coming along lately. He understands the need for him to assert himself with Jeff Green gone and he’s taking advantage. Now with the prospect of Durant potentially missing a few games, Harden will have to continue playing aggressively. Harden’s evolution has been sort of quiet, but go back and look. He’s had a nice February and really, has been a pretty terrific sixth man for OKC.
The Pacers helped the Thunder quite a bit as they turned it over 17 times, with 12 in the first half. But a lot of the turnovers were complete giveaways which led to Thunder transition opportunities. OKC shot the ball really well and moved it splendidly, as the Thunder finished with 26 assists. All the talk about the offense struggling post-trade was premature anyway, but this game showed that the Thunder will be fine scoring the ball. Especially when Harden and Daequan Cook (12 points on 4-7 from 3) give them so much off the bench.
One other major note: I love the way Scott Brooks is opening up his bench for once. For the first time since he assumed the head coaching duties two years ago, he’s breaking out of his standard nine-man rotation stuff. In the first half of this game, 11 Thunderers had appeared. Brooks finally isn’t shy about using his bench, even if it’s just a spot sub for a couple minutes. Maybe it’s because he’s got an all new confidence in that group because of the depth. But he’s doing a great job of finding 15 minutes for Daequan Cook, while still giving good time to Thabo and Harden. Once OKC gets Kendrick Perkins, there’s going to be some serious depth on the Thunder bench, which is a great luxury for Brooks, especially since he’s displaying he’s figuring out how to use it.
- How did Nazr Mohammed do? He made his first appearance for OKC, starting the game and playing 21 minutes. And his impact defensively on Roy Hibbert was obvious. Mohammed used his length really well, but also defends extremely well using his chest. He kept Hibbert off the block and uncomfortable. He definitely made an impact as he finished with eight points, seven rebounds.
- One other positive of Mohammed: Serge Ibaka got to be himself. Ibaka had seven points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, but probably altered at least five other shots. Having a true defensive-minded center next to him, not only did Ibaka get to play in position, but he was able to leave his man, rotate and swipe at shots at will. He didn’t have to worry about defending the block as much and really did what he’s best at: roam. He kind of player rover, patrolling the paint looking for shots to block. So imagine how much better it’ll be with Perkins, who’s a better version of Mohammed.
- I know a lot of people expressed concern that the Thunder lost some athleticism when they traded Jeff Green. But really, having Ibaka in the starting five plus Perkins/Mohammed instead of Nenad Krstic, doesn’t that make OKC more athletic?
- Thabo Sefolosha checked in with another strong defensive game, guarding Danny Granger for most of the game and holding the Pacer star to just nine points on 3-11 shooting.
- Nate Robinson checked in to a nice ovation with a couple minutes before halftime and promptly airballed his first shot attempt. He did score on a nice baseline cut right before the half and scored a couple buckets in garbage time, finishing with six points.
- Tyler Hansbrough plays like a maniac. And not in a good Blake Griffin way. Like in a, I-think-he’s-going-to-injure-someone-seriously way.
- With the revamped starting five, doesn’t OKC just seem more imposing now? That’s some serious size in the rotation.
- Not only did Harden score well, but he defend Granger very well in stretches and overall, played a great, complete game.
- I’m still thinking about Durant’s ankle.
- Is it just me or does anyone else really like the added swag of the sleeve on Harden’s right arm? That plus the beard, plus the mohawk… Harden is nicely accessorized.
- I wonder if that scratch across Nick Collison’s left arm is ever going to heal.
- Russell Westbrook quietly played an excellent game. He had five turnovers, but four came in the first half and they weren’t costly giveaways. They were all of the attacking variety. But Russ finished with 21 points on 7-11 shooting, plus nine assists.
- Eric Maynor with seven points and six assists in 14 minutes.
- Brian Davis line of the night: “There’s no need to get all tooty about things here guys.”
The Pacers shot just 34 percent for the night and if they don’t get nearly 40 free throw attempts, OKC blows them out by even more. The Pacers were on the second of a back-to-back, but that just means the Thunder did what they needed to do. They put Indiana away early (as in four minutes early) and kept a foot on the gas the rest of the way. This next stretch of games lightens up a bit so getting the little losing streak monkey off their back is a good thing and hopefully makes every feel a bit better.
Too bad KD had to go and roll that ankle though.
Next up: At Atlanta Friday.