OKC might’ve lost, but that doesn’t mean this wasn’t filthy.
You play with fire enough and, well, you know what happens. And it happened to the Thunder Saturday night in Atlanta.
A slow, unfocused first half put the Thunder in a position they’ve gotten familiar with during this little road trip. Oklahoma City had to get itself going, comeback from double-digits and rely on Kevin Durant bailing them out in the final three minutes. That formula has worked well this year. Just not against the Hawks this time around.
When Durant hit a 3 with 2:18 left to make it a one-point game, it really looked like the Thunder were about to walk down that road. But Josh Smith answered it and from that point on, the Thunder offense went in the toilet. For example, the sequence with OKC down five with 50 seconds left: Durant long 2, Westbrook 3, Durant 3. Are those shots we’ve seen those guys hit? Definitely, which is why they have a license to take them. They didn’t go in this time around and that’s the only reason they’re bad shots.
It was the same type of game the Thunder just got finished winning in Philadelphia and Orlando. Except OKC went just 5-21 in the fourth quarter. That kind of finish wasn’t able to hide 21 turnovers, just 11 assists and pretty poor defense in stretches.
You know what was a little different about crunch-time in this one though? Didn’t it seem like Russell Westbrook kind of disappeared? There’s been so much noise about Westbrook not deferring properly to Durant late in games, but it was obvious as OKC’s offense mustered only a handful of buckets late that Westbrook was needed. He only took one shot the final five minutes, that hurried 3-pointer with the game basically over.
You can count on KD to carry you most of the time, but it makes him even that much more dangerous when the Thunder are operating with two weapons, not just one. For the most part this season, Westbrook and Durant have played off each other late in game splendidly. For whatever reason this time around, Westbrook was in total deferral mode with Durant. KD had things going for sure and I thought that 3 with 1:17 left was going down, but OKC needs Westbrook too. It can’t just be all Durant.
This game almost felt like the Thunder were just trying to get through it. I don’t think they necessarily looked tired, just uninterested. It sort of seemed like they just wanted to get it over with and hope KD could do enough for them to win it. It’s a long season and there are a lot of games, so you can understand that kind of mental fatigue setting in.
Seeing the seven-game streak end is a bummer, especially with how sloppily the Thunder gave this one away. It was there for them to take, but they didn’t execute. Josh Smith was really good down the stretch and the Hawks survived a little cold shooting spell from the Thunder. There’s no hiding it — this was a bad loss. A Hawks team without their two best players and OKC had every opportunity to win if they just straightened up. You can’t win ’em all and blah blah blah, and going 2-1 was the mission statement for this East Coast trip, but it was three games of pretty much the same, just this time the Thunder weren’t able to hit the big shots and get the big stops.
- Scott Brooks did NOT like something about the way Daequan Cook came out for this one. Cook’s line: 11 minutes, zero points, zero shots and three rebounds.
- So, Westbrook looked alright on that ankle.
- Brooks was clearly not happy with his team’s focus and effort. He called a really random mid-possession timeout in the second quarter and then subbed Cook out for Royal Ivey just three minutes into the second half.
- Perk was in foul trouble basically from the opening tip. He fouled out after playing only 16 minutes.
- Brooks made an interesting move and while playing Nazr Mohammed his normal rotation minutes, he turned to Cole Aldrich for an extended stretch too. And I thought Aldrich was really solid. Six points and seven boards in 14 minutes for him, as well as some quality interior defense. For instance, that foul on Josh Smith at the rim. That’s not something Mohammed, or even Perk for that matter, would’ve been able to do. It’s becoming pretty clear that Aldrich isn’t far off from really needed legit minutes.
- One thing about Aldrich though: His feet are a bit slow. He was blown by off the dribble a couple times.
- It almost feels like Brooks isn’t far away from just benching Reggie Jackson for good. With Royal Ivey playing really solidly, Jackson’s value is minimal right now. He played only six minutes and did essentially nothing. The second quarter OKC fell behind, and that was the Jackson led second unit again. It’s become a bad trend. And something to be concerned about. I mean, are you confident in turning over a four-minute important playoff stretch in the Western Conference Finals to him? I don’t think I am.
- A lot of people are asking if Aldrich should get Perk’s minutes. Geez people, pump those brakes. How fast we forget. Before tonight, Perk had been playing some terrific basketball, averaging better than 10 boards a game over his last four while playing some terrific post defense on Andrew Bynum and Chris Kaman. You’re not going to find a bigger Aldrich supporter, but let’s chill a bit on one decent performance.
- A challenge: Come up with the most ridiculous U.S. Cellular text question you can and see if you can get it on air. Tonight’s actual question: “What do you mean by perimeter defense?”
- James Harden saw only 25 minutes. I don’t get that.
- Harden finished with just 10. Again, with that wrapped wrist, he just isn’t the same weapon. He went 0-3 from 3 and other than attacking the rim with some gorgeous moves, wasn’t able to get his game going much.
- The turnover problem in this one was just a total team thing. Not one or two players have the blood on their hands. Collison had four. Durant four. Ibaka three. Perk three. In a game where OKC gave it away 21 times, you would’ve thought Westbrook would have more than two, right?
- That Ibaka block on Ivan Johnson’s jumper was ridiculous.
- Marvin Williams trended on Twitter for about 15 minutes because of the move KD threw on him before the end of the half.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Well, I make up for it in ballast.”
Next up: Home against the Mavericks Monday.