Let’s get the best part out of the way: The Thunder officially clinched their second straight playoff berth with a 99-90 win over Portland tonight.
And let me tell you, it didn’t come easy. Since the Thunder’s definitely going to be in the postseason, this game was a pretty good primer to remind them how tough and physical the playoffs are.
“It was a playoff atmosphere type of game with a team with might face in the playoffs,” Scott Brooks said.
For the first time in 11 days, the Thunder were playing in what felt like an important game. A game with a little motivation. This one wasn’t against a lowly Eastern Conference team or someone with 18 wins. This was against a good division opponent with something on the line. And there was no doubt the team realized it. The intensity in both the building and on the floor from the start was obvious.
But it all went to another level after Kevin Durant picked up his fifth foul. Durant was hit was an offensive foul trying to push Gerald Wallace off of him and that basically set off an explosion in the Oklahoma City Arena. The crowd booed for roughly five straight minutes — all the way through the TV timeout — and what was already an intense affair, ramped up another notch.
The following possession, Kendrick Perkins was fouled on an and-1. Thunder up 92-88. Then a couple possessions later, OKC came up with the play(s) of the game as Kendrick Perkins denied Gerald Wallace at the rim with the ball bouncing to Andre Miller who looked to have an easy two. Serge Ibaka, as he tends to do, came flying out of somewhere in Loud City and swatted the attempt which led to a runout layup for Russell Westbrook. Everybody freak out.
Westbrook’s layup was really just a punctuation to a terrific takeover type night. Durant was having a hard time shedding Wallace and couldn’t get anything going in the second half. KD was 5-18 for the game but 0-8 in the second half and scored his last bucket with 4:33 left in the second quarter. But that’s where Russ came in.
Westbrook hit 4-5 from 3 and scored 19 of his 28 in the second half, basically picking the Thunder up and carrying them to the finish line. Westbrook knocked down two major 3s in the closing minutes, including the dagger with 25 seconds left and the shot clock up against him. Westbrook and the 3-point shot haven’t exactly always gotten along, but they sure did tonight.
“You know when Russ takes a 3 like that he feels confident that he is going to make it,” Durant said.
Scott Brooks even acknowledged after the game that by no means was that how he drew it up. “Not quite by design,” Brooks said. “They were big shots. I’m not going to sit up here and say they were great shots, but they were big shots. And Russell makes big shots.
“There was a few no’s in there before the nice shot.”
That’s what it takes to win though. Both Brooks and Durant acknowledged that this is a game they probably lose last year with KD shooting as poorly as he did. Not only was Westbrook terrific in closing, but the Thunder defense was fantastic, especially Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka inside. Gerald Wallace was a one man wrecking crew for Portland, but really, OKC’s defense was nothing short of excellent. Absolutely nothing came easy for the Blazers.
- Anyone that wants to discount Westbrook as an MVP candidate because of KD needs to look at this one. Durant goes 5-18, but Westbrook picks up and takes over. That’s big time.
- At times, the Thunder can be one of those teams that overwhelms people. They just keep coming and coming and coming at you. The 16-3 run to end the second quarter was just a total blitz. Great defense, quick offense and good shooting. OKC is pretty much impossible to handle when it plays like that.
- Scott Brooks picked up his first technical of the season in the second quarter. “I was um, uh, yeah, I got a technical,” Brooks said. “I’m going to hear from my mom now.”
- Not the first technical of his season, Perk got nailed again after he scuffled with Andre Miller in the first quarter. They were both hit with technicals but as you can see, it really was pretty minor.
- The Thunder offense was entirely out of sorts in the second half. Not being able to run through KD messed everything up. The Blazers are a terrific defensive team, but without Westbrook hitting big shots, OKC loses this one. But that’s what it takes most of the time.
- Durant was pushed out to the perimeter the entire game. Evidence: He was 3-10 from 3. Ten of his 18 attempts were from beyond the arc.
- Of note: James Harden broke his streak of double-figure games scoring just 8 tonight. He had previously scored at least 10 in 17 straight.
- Gerald Wallace’s headband makes him look like he should be in a ladies 1987 aerobics class. But drop 40 points and you can wear a ribbon in your hair if you want to.
- Ibaka had the jumper going in the first quarter. After making his third straight one, Aldridge was running down the floor shaking his head almost like he was surprised. News flash NBA: Serge can make a jumper.
- And again, wonderful game from Ibaka. 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
- I thought this was Perk’s best game yet as a Thunder(er). He went for six points and 10 rebounds, but really was a stopper inside on LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby. “I really don’t look at his game and judge it game to game,” Brooks said. “He just does so many things that the stats don’t show.”
- Maybe my favorite play of the night: Right before the half, Westbrook is holding the ball with 15 seconds left. Perk comes up to set an on-ball screen but Russ doesn’t really want. Instead of Perk just turning around, he bumps Matthews hard in the back. Matthews throws a little elbow at Perk and starts looking over his shoulder for him again. Right then, Russ raises up and drills a 3 to give OKC a 14-point lead at the half.
- The Thunder’s halftime show tonight was a Simon Says competition. It was the best one of the year. I was cracking up the whole time.
- It’s amazing how many times a game Perk gets in an opponent’s personal space and the guy looks at the official with a “come on” face. Probably 10 times a game.
- The officiating wasn’t kind to the Thunder in this one. Portland committed just 16 fouls to OKC’s 26. But OKC fans got KD a call mid-way through the fourth. Wallace was once again all over Durant and Andre Miller collapsed, swiping everywhere at the ball. I don’t think they fouled Durant, but all the commotion riled up Thunder fans who stood up and roared as play went on. KD then tried the rip move and Wallace got all ball, but Durant got the whistled. It definitely looked like ref Monty McCutchen was pressured into that one. But a couple possessions later was when McCutchen called the offensive foul on Durant.
- Here’s how good Thunder fans are: After Perk got whistled for a questionable foul with 43 seconds left that gave Portland two points, I kind of expected something to be thrown out onto the floor. It had that feel of someone doing something stupid. Nope. Just more hearty booing.
- Thabo did not do much. The Blazers left him entirely open all night. One of those four-on-five nights.
- KD on clinching a playoff berth: “It feels good. I mean a couple years ago we were the worst team ever.” Sarcastically, obviously.
- KD on his tough night: “Yeah that was tough. I work too hard for that … I was frustrated with myself but happy we got the win tonight.”
I’m pretty excited about this win and not just because OKC is officially playoff-ing again. Coming off some games where maybe the Thunder didn’t have to really focus in to win, OKC dug in defensively, made enough plays offensively and beat a good Western Conference team. I just love how the Thunder’s winning games right now. The defense has been terrific for three weeks now, right in time for the playoffs. Games like this show the Thunder are built for the playoffs. It’s just a matter of if Westbrook can carry the load if Durant gets locked down. Because if they’re both on, good luck beating the Thunder.
Next up: Tuesday at home versus the Warriors.