Thunder games have a funny way about them sometimes. As in, they’re just kind of going along, minding their own business and out of nowhere, one of the best games you’ve ever seen in your life breaks out.
You know you just watched a classic when there’s a shot like what Kevin Durant hit with three seconds left in regulation and you forget all about it. We wouldn’t have, if it weren’t for Kevin Love, who decided to replay the 3-point contest and trump KD again by hitting a wild 3 with a second remaining to send the game to overtime.
KD though, had an answer to Love’s answer. Down three and on the brink, Durant did what we’ve all gotten pretty used to him doing — he drilled a massive shot in a do-or-die situation. The Thunder found a way to stop the Wolves and it was off to another extra session. And Oklahoma City had just enough left, getting stops, hitting shots, getting runouts for easy baskets and eventually outlasting Minnesota 149-140.
“That’s going to be a game that’s going to replayed for a little while now. It was fun to be a part of. It was nerve-racking,” Durant said. “Being down five, 29 seconds, we’ve seen that before. We made some big plays. Guys trusted each other. And that’s what good teams do. They make the right basketball plays.”
The way KD said, “we’ve seen that before,” had an air of, “We knew we had it all along.” And while heartstoppers like this aren’t a good habit to get into, it does make a strong statement that there is a never panic, never say day mentality in this team that you just can’t deny. There’s a resiliency that’s special, that’s tangible.
When you have a guy like Durant who can pull you out of the mire with a ridiculous contested 3, or a guy like Westbrook that won’t ever quit competing on the offensive glass to create up an extra shot at a critical moment, or a guy like James Harden that always makes the right play, the right decision and the right move, or a guy like Nick Collison who takes it upon himself to shut down a guy that has 51 points — you’ve got a group that’s built to win, no matter the circumstances. And that’s something you can pack in a suitcase and take with you into May.
There’s been a lot of talk about Derek Fisher bringing in experience of big moments and big shots and while the playoffs are another story, the Thunder clearly are building quite the late-game resume. You can go to war with Kevin Durant. You can go to war with Russell Westbrook. With James Harden. With Nick Collison. And on and on. These guys are willing to fight, are willing to play. There are times where KD doesn’t hit that crucial 3 or they don’t get that vital stop. But more often than not, this Thunder team is building a reputation for finding ways to do it.
It was the kind of game where I just re-read those three paragraphs and feel like I need to start completely over because that doesn’t accurately summarize it well at all. I don’t think you really can. Big play, after big play, after big play, after big play. I’m sitting here thinking, and I know I’m forgetting an awesomely important play. Like Collison’s block on Love in the second OT, or Fisher’s fastbreak pass to Westbrook. You’re sitting there saying, “Ah! How could you forget this!” That’s the kind of game it was. Too many big things to count. Or remember.
The Denver game was better, I maintain, but this one was darn good. Russell Westbrook had a career-high 45, Love scored 51 but only one in the second overtime, KD had 40 and 17 rebounds, J.J. Barea had a triple-double off the bench and James Harden added 25 points and six assists. After the game ended, Durant sat on the scorers table doing a radio interview or something while holding a statsheet. He looked it over and just shook his heads. Because that’s really all you could do.
- It would be real easy to just say, “What a game, you guys!” and put a bow on this and shutup. But the way we got to the finish line is relevant. The Wolves were playing without Nikola Pekovic, so they stayed super small all night with Kevin Love at the 5. Scott Brooks used Perk on him quite a bit early, but it was obvious Perk was too slow to handle Love in the pick-and-pop (the five first half 3s were Brooks’ hint). So he matched Minnesota basically the entire fourth with Westbrook, Fisher, Harden, Durant and Collison. But to match that, he ended up playing Fisher 36 minutes. The justification was there and Brooks explained it away by saying he wanted to keep Thabo’s minutes under 20 and wasn’t sure he wanted to go to a cold body in Royal Ivey.
- Brooks on Fisher’s minutes: “You’re caught in that position where do you keep staying with him or do you put in a body that’s not warm, or not loose. But I believe in what he does,” he said. “Looking back, maybe I should’ve used Ivey some minutes, but you don’t anticipate double-overtime.”
- Fisher had some serious issues staying in front of Barea. He got beat to the rim three times that I can remember and then Brooks switched Westbrook back to him. His defense wasn’t glaringly bad to me, but I would’ve liked to seen Ivey with about half those minutes. He’s not getting beat off the dribble period and while Fisher is typically a better corner 3 shooter, it’s not like Ivey’s awful. I think the rotation is a little strange with Daequan Cook out and the Wolves were super small tonight, but I just hope Scott Brooks isn’t falling in love with Fisher this much. I think he’s a nice addition, but not 25 minutes a game nice.
- I really don’t have so much a problem with Fisher’s shooting night because he’s a good shooter and not often is going to clang so many open looks. He had two really open 3s to essentially ice the game in regulation, and on the second one, there was a little grumbling from the crowd.
- The game-tying 3 KD hit at the end of the first overtime was my favorite Thunder play, the skip pass play. Normally it’s set up for Daequan Cook, but this time the Thunder shortened it a bit with Harden throwing from the top of the key instead of all the way over the defensive shell and Durant being the guy that took the shot. And here’s the two best things: 1) It was a real play! and 2) KD made it.
- Collison’s screen on that play deserves its own four minute mix.
- Collison did incredible work on Love, but Brooks decided to start Serge Ibaka at the 5 instead of Collison at the beginning of overtime. Part of the reason he said was to win the opening tip. Which Ibaka did, but Fisher wasn’t able to run it down (ahem). The other reason was that Brooks felt Collison needed a little rest after playing most of the third and all of the fourth. And as Brooks put it, Collison’s minutes aren’t normal minutes. “Nick gives everything he has, both ends of the floor,” Brooks said. “It’s not a minute for him, it seems like a minute and a half for other guys. Every ounce in his body, he gives it.”
- On Ibaka starting the first OT: He began it with only one foul. He played four minutes, and picked up three fouls.
- Just 13 turnovers in a 58-minute game. “Maybe that’s what we have to do to keep our turnovers down, just play more minutes,” Brooks said.
- Westbrook and Durant are the first teammates in NBA history to have two 40-plus games on two separate occasions in the same season.
- Westbrook and Durant combined for 85 on 32-54 shooting.
- Lost in the craziness of this game was that Harden was absolutely ballin’ in the first half. He started 7-8 from the floor and was completely taking over. He did make some very large plays late, but it looked like he was going to go for 40 early on.
- I think we might be seeing the return of dominance in OKC’s second unit. It went on a fast 11-0 run to start the second. Brooks never felt the kind of license to use Jackson and Westbrook together like he is with Fisher and and Russ. He’s treating Fisher’s minutes almost the same as he did Eric Maynor’s. There’s a return to normalcy it seems with the second unit, and the overall rotation.
- Something to be said for the ability to plug in seemingly anyone on your bench and get production. Thabo’s out? Royal Ivey’s here with corner 3s and defense. Daequan Cook goes down? No problem, here’s Lazar Hayward.
- Brooks said there was consideration to foul up three at the end of regulation, but wisely noted there wasn’t enough time on the clock.
- The Thunder did an incredible job on the glass, only allowing Minnesota 11 offensive rebounds.
- It took J.J. Barea 25 seconds to attempt a flop on Westbrook.
- Perk had a season-high 12 points. Why isn’t anyone talking about this?
- Fisher’s final line: five points, 2-11 from the floor in 36 minutes. But man, he was veteran leadershipping his face off out there. He finally hit a big shot, but it was too late to truly matter. I guess we can all pretend it was a dagger if we want to.
- Kevin Love’s beard is solid. Martell Webster’s hair though? I mean, come on.
- Westbrook, alone on a break, ready for a massive dunk, stopped and dropped it off to a trailing Perk for a slam. I’m disappointed we didn’t get a Russell Highlight, but I do enjoy watching him do that.
- Scott Brooks before the game tonight upon finding out Derek Fisher took OKC from 6th youngest to 15th youngest: “Really? Maybe I can get a 10-day.”
- There was a real importance to win this game with the Heat coming Sunday. The Thunder don’t lose back-to-back games, but that would’ve been put to the test had they given this one away.
Next up: The Heat at home Sunday.