When you’ve won 39 games out of 51 tries, there are a lot of impressive wins. But to date, put my stamp on Thursday’s 102-93 victory in Staples as the Thunder’s best win of the season.
Why? Because this was a playoff win. The Thunder had their worst shooting half of the season the first 24 minutes hitting 35.8 percent from the field while Kevin Durant started 0-of-8 and was just 5-16 at the break. Russell Westbrook was struggling. James Harden was 2-of-9. And yet, Oklahoma City was only down five heading to halftime partly because of an unlikely spark from Derek Fisher who put the Thunder back in striking distance.
In the postseason though, you’re playing elite teams and things aren’t going to go well. You aren’t always going to get calls, you aren’t always going to shoot well, you aren’t always going to play up to your standards. It’s about staying focused, digging in defensively and keying on the things you can control — rebounding, smart offense, tough defense and just playing hard nosed basketball. That’s what the Thunder did. And eventually, their stars — who are really just too good to not play well for long — finally will come around. That’s what happened in Los Angeles. Durant hit 10 of his final 14 shots, Westbrook completely took over scoring 36 points (with only one turnover and 27 in the second half) and OKC didn’t allow the Lakers much of anything easy.
The buzzer beater by Serge Ibaka set a tone heading to the second half as the Thunder poured out of the locker room with an 11-0 run that gave them their first lead since early in the first quarter. After that, it was just a matter of time before OKC put the Lakers away. Pick your dagger moment. Westbrook buzzer-beating 3 to end the third, Harden’s 3 in Kobe’s face late in the fourth, Durant’s free throw jumper over Metta World Peace with a couple minutes left or Westbrook’s pullup J to put OKC up nine with 30 seconds left.
Every big play, every loose ball, every important moment went the Thunder’s way. They weren’t scared of the Lakers. Nobody feared Kobe. Nobody was worried about Andrew Bynum taking over because Perk had him. The Thunder looked like the big bad team that had it all along while the Lakers were the team scrapping and clawing to hold on.
Things swung in OKC’s favor when Pau Gasol picked up an iffy fourth foul early in the third, but it’s not like the Lakers had the burden of poor officiating. For example, that trio of calls on the Thunder — an offensive foul on Harden for shooting, the no contact call on Durant on Bynum’s fadeaway and then Durant getting T’d for literally saying nothing — looked to make things dicey. But the Thunder responded calmly and coolly. Never lost their heads, stayed in the game and just used their overwhelming talent to take down the Lakers.
That’s two games against top flight opponents this week and two wins. Does it mean anything more than that? Sure, but the Thunder could lose to the Bulls and Heat next week and we’ll forget all about these. That’s the point. It’s late March and while it’s clear the Thunder are very, very good, and are playing some terrific basketball, it’s only another win to build on during the drive to something bigger.
- KD didn’t attempt a free throw in this game, which is the first time that’s happened this season.
- I’m too lazy to look it up, but I can’t think of many times KD’s taken 16 shots in a half. All good looks by my account. Just couldn’t get them to fall.
- Only 10 turnovers for OKC. One for Westbrook, which was an iffy call on a jumpstop.
- Once again, the nonsense about Westbrook shooting more than Durant remains… nonsense. He took five more shots than KD and it was entirely necessary. When Westbrook is ballin’ like that, you just step aside. I’ve said it before: Once you step outside of the prism of trying to believe Westbrook needs to be a true point guard, you’ll see him for what he is — one of the 10 best players in basketball.
- But seriously, that 3 by Westbrook to end the third. Wow. That was spectacular on so many levels. My favorite part though? How you could actually hear him say “BOOM!” while holstering his 3s. Also, how very statuesque he was while doing it. Quite the eff you to the Lakers crowd there.
- There was a lot of trash talking going on in this game. Bynum had some things to say to Perk after a bucket in the first quarter, Kobe talked to Thabo after a foul in the second, Westbrook and Kobe had a conversation and of course, Harden and Kobe talked. One thing is obvious, again: The Thunder absolutely do not fear Kobe. He doesn’t intimidate them in the slightest. Doesn’t bother them. I think that’s crazy cool.
- Late in the fourth, Perk came down hard on Gasol and the two guys pulled my favorite douchey move where neither guys budges. It’s basically a game of chicken as to who will step out of the way. Perk loves to do that. Stand in the spot the foul happened and make the guy walk around you. It’s a power thing. And since Perk wouldn’t move out of the way, Gasol tried to walk through him, which was a bad idea.
- OKC’s offensive efficiency: 118.6. They average better than 110 points per 100 possessions and despite an atrocious first half, topped that easily tonight. Impressive.
- Have you noticed that Fisher has barely run any actual point guard for OKC? He’s played a lot with Westbrook and when he’s not, Harden is mostly running the team.
- It’s very clear that Kobe does NOT like Thabo Sefolosha. Or probably James Harden for that matter. After going 7-24 in the first meeting, Kobe was only 7-25 in this one. That’s 14-49 combined. That’s not very good.
- The Thunder missed 53 shots (including free throws) and rebounding 19 of them. That’s an impressive rebound rate.
- Super productive 18 minutes for Ibaka who scored eight points and had nine rebounds. Matchups kept him out most of the second half, but his play was very good.
- Maybe my favorite play of the night: Harden misses back-to-back free throws, but Nick Collison was there to put the second back in to get the two points for OKC anyway.
- Derek Fisher isn’t a very good defender, but he sure tries to LOOK like he is. He gets down in a defensive stance like he’s Gary Payton or something.
- Bynum finished with a nice line — 25 points on 10-15 shooting with 13 rebounds — but Perk was once again stellar on him. OKC was able to leave Perk one-on-one against him, which didn’t open up much of anything for the Lakers off the ball.
- Perk’s scored in double-figures three of the last four games. He had 12 tonight, which included two jumpers.
- Collison had one of his worst halves of the season in the first, but bounced back with a great second. Great interior defense, smart play offensively and savvy stuff on the glass.
- Again, the offensive foul call on Harden. I understand the rule of scissor kicking, but that was just a regular shot. It wasn’t like he intentionally hung his leg out for Barnes to hit. That’s just a natural motion. I don’t know if I’ve seen a more questionable call this season.
- Perk picked up his 12th technical of the season in the first quarter for lifting an elbow at Pau Gasol.
- There is absolutely no excuse for Westbrook’s habit of standing to complain to an official while the other team quickly turns around for a 5-on-4. There’s no good reason for it. It’s completely ridiculous how much it happens.
- Scott Brooks was saving his good stuff for TNT’s Live Trax tonight. “Rebound with your heart!” Nice one, Scotty.
- Seriously though, why is it so hard to say Oklahoma City Thunder and not Oklahoma Thunder?
Next up: The Bulls at home Sunday.