It doesn’t necessarily atone for losing two of three at home, but the way the Thunder played Sunday night certainly felt better. There was early energy, better defense and a little of that old home court edge that the team’s been missing since the All-Star break.
Oklahoma City finally broke out of the gates quickly, leading 31-15 after a quarter and really from that point on it was about snuffing out Portland runs and just playing well enough to win. OKC’s biggest lead was 21 and while the Blazers chopped it to eight in the fourth quarter, the game really never got into that uncomfortable territory (known as the Houston Zone) where it actually felt like they’d let it slip away.
And the Thunder had to respond to a different kind of energy from the Blazers too. That roster might’ve been blown up at the deadline, but interim coach Kaleb Canales definitely is an energetic coach that expects his team to match his intensity. He took them into the locker room at half and evidently told them to muck up the game, play a little dirty and try and make the game as ugly as possible. The second half was pretty chippy without ever completely boiling over and while I don’t think the Thunder completely matched the Blazers newfound energy in the second half, they did quite well enough.
“First quarter was probably our best defensive quarter of the season,” said Scott Brooks. “We held that team to 15 points. The mindset we had going into the game was good, then we kind of relaxed.”
It was a 16-point win and a game where the Thunder missed more free throws (10) than 3-pointers (seven). The offensive execution was top notch, the defense was pretty good throughout and it’s really tough to say anything all that negative about a solid 16-point win. The Blazers aren’t the same team they were before the deadline, but there’s still a little bit of talent there and as we’ve seen with other games against the Cavs and Rockets, if you’re not ready, any NBA team can make you pay.
“We were better,” said Nick Collison. “We came out with more energy on both the offensive and defensive end. Offensively we cut harder, and that’s a big key for us is to cut hard and run our plays with some speed. Sometimes we think if a play is not for us, then we don’t cut as hard and we don’t get an advantage from the very beginning of a play.”
What really kept my attention throughout was the little game within the game going on between Raymond Felton and Russell Westbrook. The two very obviously don’t have fond feelings for each other, especially after Felton called Westbrook out. It was clear the two were kind of taking the matchup personally, but I thought Westbrook did an outstanding job of checking his emotions and keeping his head throughout. He never appeared to outright go after Felton outside of the offense and finished with 28 points on 12-21 shooting, five assists and zero turnovers. If Felton thought he could rattle Westbrook and get him out of control, he thought wrong. The fact Russ didn’t give it away a single time says a lot of how great a job Westbrook stayed within himself tonight. Outstanding performance from him.
The Thunder needed to bounce back, but more than anything else, needed to just play well. Even the win against the Bobcats didn’t feel like a complete performance. This wasn’t the best basketball OKC’s played this season, but it appeared that there was a little of that old edge back to them. And with a tough week ahead with a bunch of playoff teams on the horizon, the Thunder need to be playing some solid ball.
- The Thunder are now 10-1 following a loss. Said Westbrook as to why the team seems to bounce back well: “Just being more focused, especially at home after a loss. We have to come back and be ready to play.”
- Rare game that KD was able to slip out past the media without talking. Westbrook had everyone distracted and Durant just kind of slid his way out.
- Thabo, 3-3 from 3. He played just 14 minutes, so it’s pretty obvious Brooks is bringing him back along pretty slowly. But those 14 minutes were darn productive.
- KD was 4-5 from 3, and 5-12 from 2.
- There were a couple hard fouls on both sides. KD took exception to one from Joel Pryzbilla though. He had a long conversation with Nolan Smith (who he’s friends with) and Wesley Matthews about how Pryzbilla pulled down on his shoulder, a potentially dangerous move.
- Perk does an incredible job of defending Aldridge. I had them matched up on six possessions and Aldridge didn’t score on Perk once, which included one really nice block by Perk on Aldridge’s patented spinning baseline jumper. For the game Aldridge went just 6-19 as Serge Ibaka, Perk and Nick Collison combined to play him well.
- Westbrook busted out a fake-behind-the-back Rondo style pass to Daequan Cook for a 3 late in the fourth. After Cook hit it, Russ did his 3 holsters for some reason.
- Felton has to have the highest dribble of any guard in the league. Bounces it almost to his shoulder.
- He’s also fat.
- One more thing about Felton: Blazer fans can’t stand him and it’s honestly hard to see why anyone would like him. The way he struts around the floor after he does something is really offputting. After any jumper he made, he’d backpedal down the floor bouncing around and flailing his arms like he has the most swag in the world. Something about him that’s easy to dislike.
- I’d complain that Nicolas Batum is a huge flopper, but he picks his spots well and gets calls, so I can’t really say much.
- KD was talking to the scorer’s table about something early in the fourth. Either his shooting numbers or assists or something, but he told the Thunder’s scorekeeper, “That’s not right. I keep track,” as he pointed to his head. After hitting a 3 later in the game, he came back over and had another long conversation where the scorekeeper seemed to acknowledge that Durant was right about whatever it was. My story is terrible, but trust me, it was pretty funny.
- Scott Brooks said postgame that he was fine using Nick Collison to guard Luke Babbitt. I don’t think that’s as much a compliment to Nick, as the other way around.
- I think we actually saw a Perk heat check tonight. He hit two free throw line jumpers and tried a third straight. Which barely caught iron.
- OKC’s really moving the ball well lately. Another 24 assists, which makes 20 or more assists in four of the last five games.
- Westbrook grabbing an offensive rebound over the Aldridge in the second quarter was as awesome as it sounds. Westbrook’s relentless competitiveness on the glass never ceases to amaze.
- I seriously thought Joel Pryzbilla might fall every time he ran down the court.
- James Harden jammed his left index finger in the second quarter, which seemed to bother him some. He went just 1-7 from the floor and missed three consecutive free throws after it happened. He finished with 14 points though, mainly because he went 11-14 from the line.
- So do you guys think Luke Babbitt gets up every morning, looks in the mirror at his hair and says, “Yep, nailed it”?
- Can’t get enough of that air horn sound before the starting lineups.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDsays: “KD set the big dog up at the dish to take a bite!”
Next up: At Utah Tuesday.