Well the Thunder played one of the most Thunder games ever in a strange, sluggish and sloppy win 92-88 win Wednesday in Philadelphia. The Sixers had about eight chances to win or tie, seemingly, in the last minute of the game, and they couldn’t capitalize on any of them. And in a lot of ways, it was one of those “Charles Barkley is onto something” games for Oklahoma City.
In fact, it was so mucked up and gross at the end of the game that I’d like to ignore it for a moment and turn your attention to something else. It will be by far the most memorable thing about this game for Thunder fans. It was the only thing that made what seemed before tipoff to be, on paper, kind of a fun matchup into a memorable game at all. It may be one of the most significant events of the season.
It was Kevin Durant having the most cold-blooded moment I can remember in his entire career that doesn’t involve Brendan Haywood. It started with a little extra shove by Evan Turner as he and KD went for a rebound late in the second quarter. Durant shoved back, definitely a little harder than Turner had pushed him at that. Before you know it, they had to be separated, and KD and Turner were jawing at each other as they were whistled for double-technicals.
Now, we know Durant is a nice guy. Yeah, he kisses his mama and is starring in an upcoming kids movie. But on the court, he’s always had at least a little bit of an edge. There have even been a couple flashes of attitude publicly, most memorably calling Chris Bosh a fake tough guy. And he wasn’t about to have Turner, or anyone else, shove him around. At least not tonight.
But, of course, this is Philly. They started booing the crap out of him. And it was loud. Even chanting something that rhymes with bass pole. It was almost shocking — Lord knows how many Thunder games I’ve seen in person and on TV in the last three and a half seasons, but I sure can’t remember anyone booing KD at all, much less so lustfully and so long. The first game after being named the All-Star Game MVP, no less. Then, after the Sixers missed a shot on the first play after the scrap with Turner, KD stood near half court dribbling out the clock before halftime, holding for the last shot, soaking in the heaviest booing he’s heard in his whole life.
And he nailed the three. Right in Andre Igoudala’s face. The growd groaned. KD backpedaled like it was no big deal, stone faced. It was cold. I must stress to you in the strongest possible terms, it was cold. I want to go all Drew Magary on you and use lots of capital letters and curse words. The Thunder walked into halftime up five points and it was just as cold as cold can possibly be.
Just a reminder, Chuck. But sometimes all you need to do for an easy basket is give it to Kevin Durant.
Anyway, back to more earthly matters, the rest of the game was actually quite painful. The Sixers straight choked down the stretch. The Thunder played miserably in the third quarter especially, going 2-20 from the field, but Philadelphia couldn’t capitalize and went into the final frame up by only four points. OKC clawed its way back into the game, but missed free throws and a few untimely offensive rebounds allowed (after dominating the boards all game, uncharacteristically) gave the 76ers plenty of chances to get back in the game. And they either missed shots or turned it over, sometimes in slapstick fashion. Only the closeness of the score made the end of the game exciting. The rest of the time it was unwatchable.
Some of the same old culprits for the Thunder led to the game being Philly’s to win, mainly periods of painfully lacking ball movement and turnovers. OKC finished the game with 17 turnovers and only 12 assists — three per quarter! Abysmal. Definitely material for anyone who claims, with some justification, that the Thunder brand of basketball can lead itself to flame-outs and meltdowns in the playoffs. But, for now, it worked out, and the only thing Thunder fans will remember about this game is one of those moments that will make the rounds on a lot of workplace computers in the morning.
- Is it just me, or was the lighting and ambient audio feed just a little weird somehow tonight? It seemed like the lights were a little dim or flat, and the audio was just kind of … off, for a lack of a better way to put it. May have just been me.
- The Thunder got off to an uneven start on their way to a 9-4 deficit, but a 12-0 run fixed that. Dogged rebounding efforts stood out in helping OKC get on the right side of the scoreboard. But immediately thereafter, sloppy turnovers and minimal defensive effort let the Sixers make their own mini-run. Just another day for the Thunder, really.
- Scott Brooks called KD over for his first rest of the game way earlier than normal with more than four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Did the Thunder spend part of the break re-thinking rotations? Maybe having KD play all or most of the second and fourth quarters and only part of the first and third quarters is something OKC is thinking about instead of the other way around. Seems like it’s worth a look. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything though.
- His shots didn’t fall, but I liked Reggie Jackson’s aggressiveness during his first half shift. He was cutting to the basket when the drive was there, which is what he needs to do. Let’s hope the misses don’t discourage him from staying aggressive.
- Loved, loved, loved the aside in the second quarter when the Sixers recognized Thunder assistant coach Mo Cheeks. The Sixers were honoring Cheesks’ storied career in Philly on the scoreboard, and Brooks, also a former Sixer, made it a point to watch the tribute instead of huddle the team right away during the timeout. The Fox Sports Oklahoma guys did a great job of capturing the moment for the viewers at home. Cheeks was sheepish and trying to get Brooks to get going with the huddle, but Brooks was hilariously refusing to do so while he watched the old school Cheeks highlights with a smirk on his face. The other players and assistants also chimed in with some nudges and grins at the sight of a younger Cheeks slashing and scoring for the Sixers, and it sure seemed like a fun moment.
- I really enjoyed a second quarter possession by Kendrick Perkins. He got an offensive rebound, but then almost turned it over before recovering it. Then Philly tapped it away again, but Perk recovered it one more time. Perkins promptly found a cutting Westbrook for another one of those Westbrook layups where he’s going a million miles an hour but slows down right at the rim somehow. Just like Brooks drew it up.
- Westbrook was killing it offensively in the first half by almost exclusively attacking the basket when he looked for his shot, but of course it came with turnovers. In a way, it was the perfect microcosm quarter for studying Westbrook. His drives to the basket were the kind matched only by Derrick Rose, pound-for-pound, and with devastating efficiency when he did so. He kept his head down despite not getting calls, too. But the turnovers were there. Still, the renewed presence of Nick Collison and a couple of passes by Philadelphia rookie Nikola Vucevic reminded me of why that can be deceiving sometimes. Many of Westbrook’s minutes come with only he and KD on the court as guys you want handling the ball — Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Daequan Cook and Thabo Sefolosha aren’t going to do much of what guys like Collison and Vucevic can do by just sitting with the ball at the top of the key while everyone else moves and make a nice pass. So KD and Russell are going to have the ball in their hands even more than they would otherwise, and they’ll turn it over some too. And despite the turnovers, it was Westbrook’s ruthless drives that supplied most of the Thunder’s spark in the first half before KD shut Philly fans up.
- Speaking of shutting Philly fans up, by the end of the game, even as Durant shot critical free throws (missing three out of four) at the end, they weren’t mercilessly booing him anymore. Even in Philadelphia, people can’t stay mad at Durant for long.
- We know what Brooks will be referring to the next time he makes a canned “you don’t always see it in the stats” quote about Perk: a nifty little kick save. The ball was floating toward back court, and Perk just kind of trapped it, soccer style, right back in play. The possession ended with a pair of free throws.
- The Thunder shooting only 2-20 in the third told me that OKC was going to recover. They were only down four. And 2-20 shooting streaks don’t continue. It was hard to watch, but the math says it won’t continue. That’s why those stretches rarely worry me unless they come at the end of games … like it did for poor Philly, which finished the game on about a 0-347 streak.
- Thunder box score highlights: Westbrook and Durant combined to shoot 14-38 for 45 points … wait, that’s kind of a lowlight. Just about every one of Westbrook’s 13 rebounds seemed clutch, though, and seven came on the offensive end. OKC out-rebounded the Sixers 56-40. Serge Ibaka had 10 points, eight boards and three blocks, played tough on the boards most of the night, and generally looked like he’s going to continue his strong play. Eight rebounds and an aggressive 11 FTA for James Harden.
- Royce pointed out the crazy guy in the yellow sweatshirt who sits courtside on Twitter and someone showed him this video. I decided I like that guy. I don’t like the crazy guy in Dallas who dresses flamboyantly and takes neon clappers to the game. But I do like the guy who dresses like he’s going to an 8:30 a.m. class in college and acts like a maniac. Mostly because that’s what I would do and act like if I had courtside seats.
- Royal Ivey once again provided a huge lift in his limited minutes of the bench. He had an important 3-pointer and followed up a layup by Jackson with a steal of the inbounds pass and a layup of his own, cutting an eight-point Sixer lead to four justlikethat and changing the course of the game.
- So Perk picked up his 12th technical foul of the season. That’s only one more until he gets an automatic one-game suspension — if it sticks. Looked like a really weak tech to me unless he said something he should have. It was just a little shove on a foul and seemed to be earned as much because of his reputation as anything else.
- Three cheers for the return of Nick Collison!
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “I’ll have a ROY-AL WITH CHEESE!”
Next up: At Orlando at 7 p.m. Thursday.