Late in the third quarter, Kevin Durant walked over to the scorer’s table, clearly frustrated. “What am I shooting?” he asked one of the official scorekeepers. The answer: 4-14, with just 12 points.
Not coincidentally, the Thunder were playing terrible basketball, trailing the Suns by as much as 16 in the second half.
You can be sure KD already knew it wasn’t going well for him up to that point, but maybe he just needed to actually hear it from someone else. Who really knows the reason, but after asking, he went 6-13 for 18 of his 30 points in the final 15 minutes. And not coincidentally the Thunder kicked it into gear and finally started playing basketball.
A 16-4 run brought Oklahoma City to within four heading to the fourth and really at that point, the work had been done. The Thunder kept it going the last 12 minutes, outscoring Phoenix 31-16 in the final frame en route to their 14th straight home win.
KD was as frustrated as I’ve ever seen him. He wasn’t getting calls, wasn’t hitting shots, wasn’t playing his normal stellar type of game. And he let it all loose after Grant Hill fell down late in the fourth and Durant drilled a dagger with a minute left. Durant belted out a roar and carried on for a good while about a number of things on the bench after the Suns called timeout.
But other than the Durantula waking from its slumber, the exact moment the game really turned was after Russell Westbrook was hit with a technical. He was fired up, going at ref Scott Foster pretty good and even after he was hit with the big whistle, had to be restrained by a few teammates otherwise he would’ve spent the rest of it in the locker room. It looked like an emotional outburst that might rattle Westbrook’s composure.
“Nah,” Westbrook said after the game, lowering his head and raising an eyebrow. “Came back and got a steal.” And a dunk too.
It also really turned when Scott Brooks went small and inserted Royal Ivey. That small ball lineup has become magic for Brooks. The ball movement is better, especially because of the options on each side of the floor. Westbrook looks for KD on a mismatch and if that’s not there he brings it back over to James Harden to run a pick-and-roll with Serge Ibaka on the other side. That group defending Phoenix’s pick-and-roll much better and got back in transition.
Ivey didn’t score a point — in fact only five Thunder players did — but was a +20 for the game and played a pretty key role in OKC’s win.
“Everything changed when Royal got in the game,” Scott Brooks said. “We were down a big number. It’s amazing that he has 17 minutes, doesn’t even score, doesn’t get an assist, doesn’t get a rebound, but he had a big impact on the basketball game. It’s his toughness, his grit; he’s diving on the floor he’s chasing their shooters off.
“Guys were coming off open screens, but Royal doesn’t allow himself to get screened,” Brooks continued. “You have a choice ever time. Defensively, it’s to either get screened or don’t get screened and he makes the right choice by not getting screened. I thought he was a big part of our win, but you look at his stat line and it shows nothing.”
How about this for stat lines that do show something though: 109 of the Thunder’s 115 total points came via four players. Westbrook had 31 points, 11 assists. Durant and James Harden each with 30 (a career-high for Harden). And Serge Ibaka finished with 18 points, a career-high 20 rebounds and three blocks.
Some have said the Thunder are a two-man team, some say it’s a three-man team and tonight, the box score would indicate it was a four-man team. Five players combined for the 115, with five guys that saw minutes going scoreless. Doesn’t really matter if it’s one man, two men or all 15, as long as the job is done, then it’s just a win. Which is the stat that really counts.
- From Elias, this was just the second time in NBA history three guys scored 30 or more with a fourth grabbing 20 or more rebounds.
- The 16-point deficit the Thunder came back from is the biggest this season, and biggest since 2010.
- Steve Nash had 13 assists. But not a single one in the second half.
- The 64 in the first half is tied for the most OKC’s given up in a half this season.
- Can’t say enough about Ibaka’s tough game. Twenty rebounds is impressive, but nine on the offensive end is huge. His 18 points came on 9-15 from the floor and it was really his energy that helped spark the Thunder.
- Harden’s career-high 30 came on only 12 shots.
- Lazar Hayward got a little first quarter burn after KD picked up a quick second foul. I’m not a big fan of sitting guys in that situation, especially when KD has only fouled out three times in his career. But maybe it was more for him to try and gather himself from a frustrating start.
- Kate Upton, the Sports Illustrated cover girl, was in the house sitting next to Aubrey McClendon who is her uncle or something. Fun fact: Shooting at the basket where Upton sat under, both teams combined to go just 39 percent from the floor. On the other end? 49.4 percent. Also, the Suns went 9-12 in the first half from the free throw line, while at the Upton end, they missed six. Including a rare one from Steve Nash. Thundor’s big jiggling belly is a pretty good distraction, but obviously not as good as Thunder Upton.
- A tip of the hat to @brentmoss for ThunderUpton.
- Westbrook got T’d for slapping the floor, but late in the game Nash kicked the ball right in front of ref Eric Dalen and got nothing except some heavy booing from the Thunder crowd. Reputation, you guys.
- Nick Collison tried a behind-the-back pass, and it went directly out of bounds. Probably not using that for Plus/Minus Ultimate Mix, Vol II.
- Ref Scott Foster, who made that bad call in Portland on the goaltend, had a terrible game. Missed a bunch of calls, made more bad ones and didn’t handle himself well at all.
- KD on Ibaka: “He’s one of the most athletic guys in the league … It’s nothing new to me. I know he’s capable of doing it every night and I know it’s just a matter of him doing it. We don’t have to worry about Serge. He’s going to bring it every night.”
- The book on KD is quickly becoming to let him drive left and then slap down hard on the ball when he tries to shoot. A little jumpstop and pump fake will help stop that.
- Perk really likes to hike the ball to Westbrook off a won tip-off. He actually caught the tip, turned all the way around, and snapped it to Westbrook.
- Reggie Jackson is big enough, strong enough and fast enough to take people off the dribble. Except he doesn’t. He tries to protect the ball too much. Sebastian Telfair was hounding him at one point and instead of just going by him, Jackson tried to protect the ball too much and nearly lost it.
- Jackson’s time on the floor to start the fourth was pretty productive though. It was aided by the fact he was on the floor with Durant and Harden though.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “Royal… fails to find his cheese.”
Next up: Friday at home against Cleveland.