There’s a certain business-like mode really good teams can turn on. And the Thunder activated that Saturday against the Suns.
No slow start, no letting up, no lapses or lack of focus. Oklahoma City was ready and waiting for Phoenix and handled its business 107-97 on New Year’s Eve to improve to 5-0.
I want to break this thing down, but what’s there really to say. The Thunder rolled the Suns with KD only scoring 12 points and no starter playing more than 30 minutes. It was an efficient takedown of a team OKC should completely outclass at home, with the Suns coming off a game the night before.
OKC started the game on a quick 7-0 run and then the bench took over, piling up 33 of the Thunder’s 60 first half points. James Harden was terrific, dishing out eight assists with six in the first half. Daequan Cook went 4-5 from 3. Nazr Mohammed scored nine and made a number of nice plays, including a sweet fake pass and-1 layup. This game really was just a clinical performance from a Thunder team that should do exactly what it did.
Russell Westbrook clearly has snapped out of his funk. Whether it was the chant from Thursday or just him knocking down a few jumpers, Westbrook played a really solid, controlled game. He had 18 points on 8-14 shooting with four assists and just two turnovers, one being a fairly bogus charge call.
I thought Westbrook toed the line wonderfully between being his sometimes emotional self and productive intensity. His body language was much better from the beginning of the night pregame in the locker room to the starting lineups to the play on the floor. Westbrook is and always was going to be fine. He’s straightening out and getting back to his game which is terrifyingly good. Smart rhythm jumpers, relentless attacking of the basket and good distribution.
Maybe it had something to do with Thursday’s emotional game against Dallas with the chant, or maybe it’s just Westbrook getting back to himself. But he hasn’t forgotten.
“I’m just trying to stay positive man, and play for the fans,” he said, unprovoked about the chant. “They did a lot for me, whether they know it or not.”
What was most impressive to me was OKC’s defense though. Phoenix shot just 39.8 percent and never looked at any time to have a rhythm to their offense. And we’re talking about a team that’s been one of the league’s best offensive team for a number of years. Granted, this is a completely different Suns team from the one that went to the Western Finals two years go, but Steve Nash still plays for them.
“I thought the defense in the first half was some of the best of the year,” Brooks said.
And that’s about as interesting as it got tonight.
- Semi interesting moment in the third quarter: Westbrook got trapped on the sideline and couldn’t find anyone. He was forced to burn a timeout and looked unhappy with Ibaka, pointing at a spot and yelling something short and quick at Serge. It almost looked like Westbrook caught himself and turned around and ran away. KD walked over and then calmly explained to Ibaka what Westbrook was talking about (I’m assuming).
- A few people tweeted me and said the Suns broadcast was making a big deal about that. That’s where this Westbrook this is going. People are getting hypercritical of Westbrook in everything he does. What, the guy isn’t allowed to yell out something to a teammate? He can’t play floor general anymore? He can’t be a leader? If Westbrook isn’t allowed to yell and bark and debate like every other player in the league does always, then what’s the guy supposed to do? He can’t win right now.
- The Thunder’s pregame routines fascinate me. I might do a whole post just on those.
- Serge Ibaka finally showed off a little of that supposed improving post play with a beautiful turnaround baseline jumper.
- I realize Steve Nash is as pure a point guard as there ever was, but I honestly don’t get why he doesn’t shoot every time. I feel like it’s going in each time he fires one up and it doesn’t matter from where. His pre-game routine was nuts. He didn’t miss for about 15 straight minutes. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone with that kind of pure shooting ability. He went just 3-10 tonight, but Nash is ridiculous and for a team that’s struggling for offense, he should look to score 30.
- Alvin Gentry said before the game Harden is “the most underrated player in the league.”
- How about Thabo tonight? Twelve points including a nice 2-3 from deep. Thabo has quietly stepped up his offense this season. Not more production necessarily, but solid, efficient play for sure.
- Reggie Jackson made his Thunder debut playing the final four minutes. He replaced Harden, with Eric Maynor staying in the game to run point. His first points came on a nice baseline drive around Robin Lopez. I loved the way it happened though. Maynor threw the ball to Jackson on the wing with Lopez on him. Jackson gave it right back to Maynor to initiate the offense. Maynor fired a pass right back to Jackson with a look of “Go at him, rookie.” And Jackson did, taking Lopez easily to the cup. That’s wonderfully subtle point guarding by Maynor.
- It never ceases to crack me up with how much precision Ed Malloy makes calls. He’s the most fundamental ref in the NBA.
- Robin Lopez’s hair… there are no words.
- Daequan Cook is shooting 3s with next level confidence right now. You can tell each one he lets fly, he’s completely sure it’s hitting bottom. He went 4-5 from deep in the first half but didn’t play any in the second because of flu-like symptoms. I could tell. He looked hot to me. Hi-oh!
- The Thunder seem to have a really good relationship with tonight’s officiating crew. Not much griping, not much yelling. KD and Ed Malloy looked to really be getting along, joking around with each other during timeouts. I was curious how long all those niceties would last because KD had a bunch of calls go against him and got to the line only once.
- With five seconds left and Maynor dribbling out the clock by himself at halfcourt, ref Eric Lewis whistled Maynor for carrying. I guess the right call, but sheesh.
- I talked to Perk about his Twitter and he said he deleted it because there was just too much negativity. He also said he didn’t think he could keep his mouth shut. “I don’t think Sam Presti liked me on there too much,” he said. “I’m serious.”
Next up: At Dallas Monday.