For the first time in four home games, the Thunder starters weren’t spectators for a fourth quarter. And actually had to really work to secure Oklahoma City’s third straight win.
The New Orleans Hornets never would give in, keeping the score within 10 points before the Thunder finally just kind of quietly finished them off 101-91 with a couple Russell Westbrook baskets, a fast break oop to Kevin Durant, a big bucket from James Harden and a couple deep balls from Daequan Cook.
The difference between the first and second half was pretty striking. The first half might’ve had the best ball movement and offensive execution of the season. The Thunder had 13 assists at the half, scored 60 points and shot better than 50 percent. Oklahoma City wasn’t relying on just easy transition baskets (only 19 fast break points total) but were moving the ball, cutting and hitting shots. For a stretch in the second quarter, there were multiple possessions where all five guys were getting touches in rapid succession.
That type of thing is often difficult to sustain and the Thunder lost a little air out of that bubble in the third. OKC scored just 18 points in the third quarter and started an ugly stretch of turnovers that carried on throughout the second half. Westbrook had seven and Durant four. Eight Thunderers had a turnover. Scott Brooks, not happy about it.
“Just too many turnovers. We kept them in the game by turning the ball over,” he said. “There are aggressive turnovers and there are sloppy turnovers. And we’re doing both of them. It’s not like we don’t work on it, but it’s happening and we have to correct it.”
Said Durant on the turnovers: “Sometimes we’re just trying to make a home run play and we just have to make the easier play. But we have good intentions always. I think it’s something we can correct but we’re still winning basketball games.”
It looked like Serge Ibaka was about to complete his breakout after putting up 10 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter, but he didn’t grab a board or score a point in the second half, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds. Part of that is definitely on Ibaka, who played like an animal the first 24 minutes of the game, but the other part is just on the fact he wasn’t on the floor. Scott Brooks, as he likes to do, chose to go small down the stretch playing KD at the 4.
“It’s a matchup,” he said. “It’s a tough decision to make, especially in a game like tonight. Serge was really playing good basketball. I felt their pick-and-roll offense was really bothering us, so Kevin allows us to switch all pick-and-rolls. Kevin can stay in front of the point guards and our guards and our wings are same size guys and are athletic and have long arms and defend. So we switch. I though that was a pretty important of our win tonight.”
That’s just a reality sometimes though. The NBA is a matchup league and if that means a guy gets squeezed a bit on a given night, so be it I suppose. Brooks identified it correctly too. The Hornets pick-and-roll was indeed hurting the Thunder and going small with KD wasn’t really going to sacrifice anything else. OKC was rebounding well and protecting the paint good enough. It was Jarrett Jack and the mid-range pick-and-pop stuff that was breaking down the Thunder.
Good to handle business at home before eight of nine games on the road coming up. Maybe it was a bit more difficult and some players had to log more minutes than we’ve become accustomed to at home, but you can’t ever take winning for granted.
- The Thunder did much better on the boards, allowing only eight offensive rebounds to New Orleans. That’s the first game a team didn’t grab double-digit offensive boards on the Thunder this year.
- KD was 5-5 from the floor in the first half and 9-13 overall for 25 points. The Thunder offense was good and efficient and all, but KD needs more than 13 shots. I love efficiency but when the offense starts to stall, go to No. 35. He can kickstart an offense pretty quickly.
- I’m ready for the Cole Aldrich era. I said before the season that I thought he would crack the rotation at some point and I think that time has come. Nazr Mohammed just isn’t producing nor is he playing very well. His minutes are getting cut more and more and the Thunder basically have a dead spot behind Perk right now. I’d give some time to Aldrich if anything just for the shot of energy he could give for six or seven minutes.
- The first bad night for Westbrook in a while. He started the game 1-10 before hitting three of four shots in the fourth to finish 4-14 for 14 points. But he turned it over seven times trying to force the perfect pass and had just five assists, with only one in the second half. I only remember one bad pull-up jumper from Westbrook though. His shot selection was mostly good, just didn’t finish some good looks.
- Daequan Cook’s 3-point shooting was awesome. He went 3-3 from deep and hit a really big momentum killer in the second half. And he converted a skip pass play 3, which is my favorite thing ever.
- Westbrook was really close to two highlight dunks but got stopped at the rim on both of them. Same thing happened to Durant when Jason Smith blocked KD on a dunk attempt out of nowhere.
- KD’s step-back jumper is more pure than Tim Tebow. It needs it’s own True Love Waits purity ring. It’s seriously so beautiful that sometimes, a single tear rolls down my cheek as it swishes home.
- KD with three blocks, seven rebounds, two steals and four assists. And the 25 points. Complete night.
- Late in the third, Reggie Jackson was trying to get the Thunder into a set but clearly wasn’t communicating it well. The shot clock was ticking away as he halfway made a waving gesture for KD to go to the weakside — 15, 14, 13 on the shot clock. KD yelled, “What? WHAT?” because clearly Jackson wasn’t communicating it well. That’s something he’s got to do better. Take control of the offense and make sure everyone is running what he calls.
- Westbrook missed KD a few times on their little side-screen-and-roll play. He chose to attack rather than drop it to Durant. Not an easy play to execute, but it was there a couple of times.
- Again, Ibaka’s first quarter: 10 points and seven rebounds. Most of this year, that was his final line. And that’s been a good night.
- For the first time this season, Perk didn’t have a block.
- Thabo went 1-4 from 3. BENCH HIM. (Just kidding.)
- I really have no idea who Gustavo Ayon is or how he wound up in the NBA, but I’m a fan.
- Wonderful decision by KD at the end of the first quarter — he had the option to shoot a contested 3 at the buzzer, but instead trusted an open Reggie Jackson in the corner. And Jackson paid it off with a deep 2. Durant said after the game that he wanted to run a different play than what Brooks had called but he was overruled. “He called a better play than I did,” Durant said.
- KD clearly wasn’t thrilled with Westbrook holding on to the ball to be fouled with 19 seconds left. He obviously would’ve liked to been the one to take those free throws.
- Question: Does James Harden have the best Eurostep in the league?
- Ibaka’s running hook should become more of a thing. I would love to see Ibaka get three or four isolation postups a game.
- Before the game, I guess Westbrook had downloaded some music mixing app on his iPad because he had most of the team gathered around his locker as he played DJ, spinning his fingers around the screen. Trust me, it was way more interesting than that sentence made it sound.
- I have no idea why, but the Rumble on stilts thing totally creeps me out.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via ThunderBDsays: “He nods his head approvingly! Pumps his fist mildly!”
Next up: At Golden State Friday.