Road trip, successful.
The Thunder handled the Jazz in Utah 101-87 to secure a 3-2 road trip and Scott Brooks’ spot as the West’s head coach for the All-Star Game. It wasn’t a flashy game that included much razzle dazzle or even anything that really stuck out all that much. It was kind of a back-to-business for the Thunder who dominated the glass (46-32), made 19 more free throws than the Jazz and shot a solid 47.5 percent from the floor.
There were moments where it seemed that the game might be close down the stretch, but credit the Thunder bench who extended a Thunder lead to 12 early in the fourth before Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook checked back in. Which essentially meant things were over for the Jazz.
Finally though. Finally the Thunder bench stepped up the way it used to. Reggie Jackson wasn’t great or really even that good, but his jumper with the shot clock expiring keyed the spurt. The Thunder offense appeared to be stalling out completely, as it tends to do with Jackson running the show, scoring only three points the last three of the third and letting the Jazz cut OKC’s lead to five in the fourth. But that jumper, a couple steals and some sturdy defense did the job and made things easy on the Thunder down the stretch. Our blood pressure appreciates it.
It was finally a quality defensive effort after giving up 100 points or more the last five games. It looked like OKC was well on its way to doing that again after allowing 30 points to the Jazz in the first quarter but after that, the locks were put on. Utah scored 14 in the second, 21 in the third and 22 in the fourth. The Thunder clogged the paint, forced the Jazz to shoot over the top and cleaned up the glass without much issue.
This five-game trip though had a loss at San Antonio, a controversial win in Portland, a tough win at Golden State, a bad loss to the Kings and an easy win over Utah. Yeah, the Thunder weren’t far from going 1-4. But that’s the idea in being a good team. Good teams win those tight, tense games. Especially when No. 35 is on your team. That’s the idea behind having a player like KD. He wins you games. He’s worth wins like OKC got against the Blazers and Warriors. Yes, the Thunder were a missed bank shot and a goaltend away from losing both. But they won. Because they’ve got Kevin Durant and the other guys don’t.
- Russell Westbrook’s first touch, a turnover. After that in 33 minutes he turned it over only three more times. I thought Westbrook handled the ball much better tonight than he has over the past few games. Smart, confident playmaking.
- Was it just me or did it not look like the Thunder had to work that hard for this one? I know they were working, but it kind of seemed like they knew they had it all along. Like they were just doing enough to make sure they kept clear of the Jazz.
- Reggie Jackson played decent minutes tonight, but he really just has so little control over the offense. He’s basically just out there. This is obviously an overstatement but most anyone can dribble the ball up and then pass it to Harden and stand in the corner. He barely gets the plays called. You can see him trying to run something while KD and Harden are directing traffic. He’s a rookie, so it’s understandable and he’ll get better. It’s just a painful reminder how lucky we were with Eric Maynor.
- I think the best example of how the Thunder slow down with Jackson is plus/minus superstar Nick Collison was a -3 in a 14-point win. Jackson was a -7, Nazr Mohammed a -3. Those were the guys primarily playing with Jackson tonight.
- Only one offensive rebound for Utah in the first half.
- How good has Ibaka been on the offensive glass lately? I think he’s a better offensive rebounder than defensive. He had five offensive boards, 11 total and scored 16 points. Ibaka has been really, really solid the past three weeks.
- The Thunder have been on the road 22 out of the last 28 days.
- After dropping a complete stinker against the Kings, Perk bounced back with a double-double, 10 points and 10 rebounds. That’s his first of the season. You can use that as a negative and say, “It took our starting center 27 games to register a double-double,” or you can just be happy Perk played well.
- The Thunder offense really is kind of amazing. It’s crazy how good it is but for example tonight only had 12 assists on their 35 baskets. They move the ball. But they don’t move the ball to a cutter or a shooter ready to fire. Mostly it’s getting one of their dynamic offensive players in a position to attack or take his man. Really, the only assists OKC gets is in the pick-and-pop game to Ibaka, transition or in a catch-and-shoot.
- Two turnover issues: The Thunder try and split the hedge in the pick-and-roll too much and often dribble into a trap out of a pick-and-roll. KD said it perfectly: “We’ve got to stop playing in a crowd.” Bingo. Exactly.
- Turnovers by quarter: six, five, two, four. Total: 17. But it wasn’t as glaringly bad. They were turnovers within the offense, some coming on moving screens or charges. Some bad, but not the kind where you want to stick your arm down the garbage disposal.
- Daequan Cook has been shooting lights out this season but went 1-9 from 3. That’ll ding the old shooting percentage.
- Chris Mullin: “I don’t think Westbrook has a selfish bone in his body.” I completely agree with that assessment. Sometimes Westbrook’s actions and play might suggest otherwise, but I don’t think intentionally thinking of himself first. I think he either gets caught up in a one-on-one matchup, or feels a responsibility to shoulder the load for the team. But I’ve never thought Westbrook was selfish.
- Yep, Westbrook took 20 shots to KD’s 10. Not a big deal though. Because Westbrook’s 20 shots were within a flow and all mostly in rhythm. You can’t just say, “Westbrook shouldn’t be taking more shots than Durant,” because some nights, he should. Some nights he’s got the whole package working and he needs to be the primary option. If you don’t give him that, you’re wasting his ability. He’s one of the best scorers in basketball and you want to tell him NOT to score just because KD should be shooting? What sense does that make? I think the Thunder are most dangerous when BOTH guys are weapons, not just Westbrook passing to KD and getting out of the way. If that’s what you want, just stick Reggie Jackson out there.
- Another great line from Mullin about Westbrook: “The only people that should say he shoots too much is opposing coaches.”
- It’s getting to the point where if Perk catches the ball in the post I’m just hoping he at least gets a shot up. I don’t even care if it goes in. It’s a little victory if he doesn’t turn it over. I honestly like him more leading a fast break than catching the ball on the block.
- Serious question: Was the offensive foul on Collison where he blocked out his man and Reggie Jackson scored the worst call you’ve seen this season? I think it was.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via Mike Tirico: “I think Westbrook was so fast that Kenny Mauer’s hair might’ve actually moved.”
Next up: Home against the Jazz on Tuesday.