The Thunder pulled out an incredibly gutsy, hard-fought Game 2 to even the series 1-1 with a 106-100 win. But more than likely, there’s going to be more talk about how the Thunder won the game than actually that they won the game.
Scott Brooks is the main reason the word “gutsy” is in that lede. Brooks made what I’m sure was an extremely difficult decision to go with his bench the entire fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook — who was very good the first three quarters — didn’t play a second. It was Eric Maynor’s team to run. In fact, only one starter played the bulk of the fourth and it was Kevin Durant. (Thabo and Serge Ibaka played the closing minutes.)
I’ve already heard people saying Westbrook was pouting, furious or a lot of other negative things about his “benching.” I’ve heard people speculating that Brooks wanted to teach him a lesson. But that’s not at all what this was about. This was about the five players on the floor and how well they were playing. This was about going with what was going to win you a game. Russell Westbrook isn’t stupid. The Thunder won the game and that’s what matters. He understands that. I’m sure he’s going to be a little upset. I’m sure he’s offended he didn’t come in. But the win is what matters and he gets that.
There is going to be a story made about this situation, which is a total shame. I can already hear all the talk radio shows and picture all the columns being written about how the Thunder need a so-called “pure” point guard on the floor. This feeds every narrative we’ve heard about over the past few weeks. I get that. I’m not dumb. But there’s a big distance between being upset and being disappointed.
And you know what? If Westbrook actually is so offended that this becomes an issue, then I don’t think he fits the culture of this organization. This franchise is entirely about team, together and trusting in the next guy. I can’t think that Westbrook isn’t a part of that. If he isn’t, then he should absolutely move on.
The Thunder won this game without Westbrook on the floor in the biggest moments. Easy to see that. Westbrook didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t miss a shot, didn’t make a bad decision in the final 12 minutes. That’s true. But to think this is some kind of change the Thunder need to pursue full time or more often is borderline crazy. This team didn’t win 55 games and get to the Western Conference Finals with Russell Westbrook sitting on the bench. Brooks played the hot hand. He went with what was working. And besides, it’s not like Westbrook had nothing to do with this win or something.
Honestly, the bigger story SHOULD be about Brooks making that call — which had to be incredibly hard — and sticking with it. Brooks knows it’s going to be a big story. He knows that there’s going to be damage control. He summed it up simply.
“I didn’t want to mess with the rhythm,” he said. “It had nothing to do with Russell. Eric was playing good basketball for us.” That tells the story, but that’s not the story people want to hear. It’s not the good story. It’s not what’s most interesting.
Again, the real story is how well the Thunder bench performed. James Harden was completely lights out (23 points on 6-9 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists). Eric Maynor, terrific (13 points, zero turnovers). Nick Collison was downright heroic on Dirk. Daequan Cook hit a couple massive 3s. Look at the Thunder bench: +5, +10, +18, +11, +14. The bench went 9-11 in the fourth quarter for 23 of the Thunder’s 29 points. In the second quarter, the bench scored on 10 consecutive possessions. They scored a total 50 points. Now that’s a story.
This game turned immediately after KD threw down one of the most ridiculous dunks this season over Brendan Haywood. It was so nasty, KD was given a technical foul for it. (Not really, but he did get a tech for I guess staring at Haywood.) Durant was dominant despite just scoring 24 points (he had 16 in the first half). Westbrook, for all the talk there will be about him, re-discovered his game, scoring 18 points in the first three quarters. He dropped jumpers, created points for others and defended well.
You can’t understate what a win this is for the Thunder. Coming back with a split is worth gold. This is the first time the Mavs have lost at home all postseason and the only two games they’ve allowed 100 points are in these two to the Thunder.
There’s going to be a bunch of chatter after this one and that’s the trade Scott Brooks made with his decision to stick with his bench. But it paid off and that’s what matters. He may have to do a bit of grief counseling tomorrow, but the same starting five will be out there for Game 3. Russell Westbrook will get his time. This was about going with the hot hand and your gut. And in this case, it completely worked. You can’t second guess that.
- You know what I’m reminded of? Remember the Nuggets game in Denver the Thunder won during the regular season? Eric Maynor really sparked the team big time and Brooks hung with him for a long time (Russ re-entered with two minutes left). It was the right call then and there weren’t any lingering issues after that.
- KD on Westbrook: “I don’t think he struggled tonight. We went with a different lineup in the fourth. But he didn’t struggle. When he was on the floor he played pretty well I think.” More: “Russell understands that. He’s a perfect teammate. He was over there cheering everybody on. As a leader, that’s what you want to see over there on the bench.”
- That’s what’s already blowing me away — people are already drawing conclusions that there’s some sort of major rift. Stuart Scott said Westbrook was “furious” about being benched while doing highlights. That speculation is nuts. But prepare to endure it for a couple days.
- Magic Johnson said Durant’s dunk is one of his top five ever in the postseason. Pretty bold, but I’m not disagreeing. I can’t think of five better.
- What won this game for the Thunder was the bench in the second quarter. Just huge play from them. Dallas won the first, OKC took the second. A reversal of Game 1.
- The Thunder made an adjustment on Dirk and to me, there was some light doubling, but it was more about pushing him away from spots and making him drive. Dirk finished with 29 on 10-17 shooting, but was just 9-10 from the line. Collison’s work was terrific, but even Ibaka played solid minutes on him.
- Dirk gives me nightmares, but man, J.J. Barea is terrifying.
- Love this tweet from Shoals: “Westbrook is smart enough to know that Harden or Maynor getting heavy minutes is hardly an insult.”
- A lot of people drew a conclusion on Westbrook because he was upset when he was taken out at the end of the third. Yes, he was demonstrative there. But Russ is emotional. He has outbursts all the time. He never pouted or sat with his arms crossed on the bench. He was up and cheering the entire fourth. The people that want to feed the narrative aren’t going to mention that, but it’s the truth.
- Mark Jackson said he thought the Kendrick Perkins trade was bad for both teams because “Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic added something…” Yeah, that’s not true. Then he said, “Jeff Green’s ability to guard guys like Dirk Nowitzki.” I have no words, or comment.
- You know who wasn’t great in this game? Kendrick Perkins. He just has a lot of trouble with the more athletic Tyson Chandler. Can’t run the floor with him, can’t jump with him on oop attempts. But we did get another look at Perk’s beautiful mid-range game again. When that went, I felt pretty good.
- Here’s the thing: The Thunder shot 55.7 percent from the field. A lot of the reason OKC won was because the Thunder hit some really tough shots. A couple of Harden’s were downright incredible. Just like Thunder fans convinced themselves Dirk wouldn’t shoot 12-15 again, Mavs fans are likely saying OKC’s not going to drop that many tough shots again.
- My power went out right after Peja missed that 3 with 10 seconds left. No joke. That was agonizing.
- People saw it as complaining from me on Twitter, but I didn’t mean it that way, but how is it that Dirk isn’t allowed to be touched? Like every time Collison laid hands on him, it was a whistle. Even the other four Mavericks didn’t get that treatment. A few times Maynor or Thabo grabbed and held Jason Terry or Barea like crazy, but no call. I find this odd.
- On that note, only three free throw attempts for KD.
- How about Scott Brooks halftime speech? Have you seen that much fire from him like, ever?
- A second straight game Serge didn’t have a block. That’s rare.
Make it 27-5 in bounce back games. OKC took care of business in Dallas and got the split. A shame there’s going to be so much talk about what happened in this game, but the biggest news is that the Thunder took a big time road game.
This series feels like it’s going to be a complete battle of who makes more shots in big moments and tonight, it was the Thunder. I really have no idea what to expect in Game 3.
Next up: Game 3 in OKC Saturday.