Somehow, in a twisted way, two of the Thunder’s uglier games have also resulted in maybe two of their best wins. On back-to-back nights, Oklahoma City had to come from behind, get big stops, make big shots and just find a way to win.
There’s something special about a team that you know doesn’t count itself out. Down 11 heading to the fourth? They know they’ve got a 10-2 run in them coming to get back in it. The Thunder can play some frustrating basketball at times, but when they put No. 35, 13 and 0 on the floor together to finish things out, they’ve got a chance. Better than a chance, actually. They’re right where they need to be.
Even when two Kevin Durant free throws put the Thunder up a point late in the fourth, it still felt like they were down eight. It wasn’t an emphatic comeback to overtake Orlando. It was just steady, methodical offense paired with quality defense. The Thunder quit exchanging baskets and started stringing together stops and scores. James Harden had a few gorgeous drives to the basket, Russell Westbrook was tremendous and Durant, well, that guy is just filthy good. How’s this: KD in the fourth: 18 points on 5-6 shooting. The Orlando Magic: 21 points on 8-25 shooting. Game. Set. Durantula.
There’s been a lot of chatter about so-called “easy baskets” and how the Thunder offense can’t last. And it makes sense. What wasn’t working in the first three quarters for OKC was that those jumpers weren’t falling. That’s kind of sort of basketball though. Getting an “easy basket” isn’t easy. Teams play defense, you know.
What games often come down to is if you have guys that can score tough baskets. Guys that can make that contested jumper, finish that layup in traffic, find that pocket for a decent look. Sir Charles is wrong there. You don’t win big games by scoring easy. Because nobody scores easy. You win tough games against good teams by scoring hard, difficult near impossible baskets. For example, the buzzer-beating one-legged jumper by Durant to put the Thunder up five with a minute left. That wasn’t a tough shot. That was getting-into-Harvard difficult. And that’s what you’ve got to get from your big-time players. You want an easy basket? Kevin Durant is an easy basket. That’s what Thunder games often come down to. Oklahoma City has KD. The other team does not.
But the Thunder don’t find themselves there without the work on the interior by Kendrick Perkins. Dwight Howard finished with 33 points (16 coming in the third), but from my charting, he only scored once on Perk one-on-one. Most everything Howard got was on a putback, a lob or against someone other than No. 5 in white.
And once OKC sealed off that path for Orlando, the Thunder could focus on closing out on shooters. Ryan Anderson didn’t get a single look in the fourth. J.J. Redick was a complete non-factor. It was essentially an Orlando team that had its way for three quarters offensively and then looked completely lost in trying to just find one clean look. It was lockdown mode for the Thunder.
Winning ugly games can sometimes be more satisfying than winning pretty. You might have to restrain yourself from running headfirst into the wall for three quarters, but knowing the Thunder has that ability to win gritty is a good thing. A better thing than being able to make so-called “easy baskets.”
- Ever seen a zone fail faster than the one Orlando employed tonight? The Magic tried one out against OKC late in the fourth quarter. First possession, terrific ball movement around the perimeter and Royal Ivey paid off an open 3. Next possession, Westbrook flipped it to Durant who was in the wing pocket and drilled a deep 3. Zone over.
- Scott Brooks deserves a lot of credit for using his smallball lineups extremely well. He mismatched the Magic, using Nick Collison at the 5 for a good portion of the fourth. He even went supersmall with Westbrook, Harden, Ivey, Durant and Collison. It was the offensive spark the Thunder needed.
- That fast break at the top. ART.
- Westbrook rolled his left ankle about midway through the fourth and stayed in the game, but it clearly hobbled him. He only took one after that and didn’t attack much. He ended up leaving the game with about 20 seconds left to go to the locker room. I’m sure his status will be in question for Saturday against the Hawks.
- Westbrook had a fine game though. He was a big reason OKC stayed close through the first three quarters, finishing with 29 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. That’s just Westbrook’s second double-digit assist game of the season. Third double-double though.
- That Perk jumper with 1:30 left? Want to know what the complete opposite of an easy basket is? There you go.
- Perk with another double-digit rebounding game.
- Harden didn’t have a massive factor in the game, but the 13 points and five assists he added are exactly the kind of subtle offense that wins OKC games. He hasn’t shot the ball well with that wrap on his left wrist, but he’s still finding ways to score.
- Daequan Cook did a small shoulder shimmy at the free throw line. Has he always done that? Or like the rest of us, does he just want to be like KD too?
- The Thunder fell behind early in the second quarter with the second unit. Once again, Reggie Jackson didn’t perform well. He just advertises his moves too much. He might as well carry around a megaphone and say, “HEY, I’M GOING LEFT HERE!” He just doesn’t trust his own game yet. I remember saying the same things about Westbrook though.
- KD and Westbrook scored the Thunder’s final 20 points of the first half. And combined for 67 of OKC’s 105.
- The Magic did a good job of limiting fast break opportunities for OKC, especially the first three quarters. The Thunder finished with 16, one behind their average, but picked up six in the fourth quarter.
- That was OKC’s first win in Orlando since the franchise moved and the first win since 2004.
- Orlando had only two offensive rebounds in the first half and finished with 10. They picked some up in the second half, but OKC’s work on the glass was solid overall.
- We’re going to have to talk about free throws at the end of games, you guys…
- Offense, efficient. OKC shot 51.4 percent from the field, hit 21-27 from the line including 13 straight before Cook’s final two misses and turned it over only 13 times.
- Home whites and black shoes. APPROVE.
Next up: At Atlanta Saturday.