It took seven games, but the Thunder finally put a complete game together and gave us a little taste of what they might look like when they’re fully operational. Explosive runs (heh), energized, intense defense, scorers scoring and a dynamic offensive attack piling up points in a hurry.
This is a painfully obvious statement but the Thunder are a dangerous team when their best players play well. What makes them elite is that they can win when they don’t, but when things click, look out. When Kevin Durant scores in rhythm, when the bench chips in, when defense turns to offense, when they get out in the open floor and when Russell Westbrook is knocking down shots, there’s no good way to stop them. And Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrookin’ big time tonight.
The Cavs had closed on Oklahoma City a bit in the third, cutting it to three, 76-73, with 2.7 seconds left. The ball went in to Westbrook, he buzzed up to halfcourt and threw a missile at the backboard that caught an angle perfectly and rattled in.
“I say it was about 80 percent luck, about 20 percent Russell,” said Kevin Durant.
I know what KD means, but that was 100 percent Russell. As in, that was such a Russell thing to do.
That’s Westbrook though. He was playing pretty well already, but sometimes when he gets sparked, it’s on. And kudos to Scott Brooks for spotting it. Instead of sitting Westbrook to start the fourth as he normally does, he kept Westbrook in the game as an off-guard with Eric Maynor running point, and the Thunder offense centered around him. Westbrook kept it going knocking down two more 3s, essentially breaking Cleveland’s back early in the fourth.
But the seeds were planted early for Westbrook in this one. I’ve theorized before that the best way to hold Westbrook down is to remove his mid-range game because that’s really what he wants to use to open everything up. But he hit a few jumpers early, which clearly got his confidence rolling and started filling the Westbrook Swag Meter. Westbrook has fired up quite a few 3s early this season — 30 through seven games — but it’s clearly a part of his game he’s intent on adding. And as he’s proven in the past, it’s a shot he’s capable of hitting, but it typically comes when the pull-up jumper hits first.
Again though, what makes this Thunder performance better than the six previous to it is that it wasn’t an isolated explosion. It wasn’t just Westbrook. Durant was terrific scoring 26 on 9-16 shooting. Serge Ibaka flirted with a triple double going 14-7-7. Kevin Martin added his customary 16 off the bench. Even Perk hit double-figures. The engine really started cranking and once the game started to open up, there was just no way Cleveland could keep pace.
And this too: The defense was again really solid. But for the one game against Atlanta, the Thunder have been very sturdy on the defensive end. The game against the Hawks is the only one they’ve allowed more than 100 points, and in this four-game win streak, OKC hasn’t allowed more than 94.
They can be better though. There’s no doubt about it. But consider the circumstances here: This is game seven after a pretty significant shakeup. The popular statement when the trade happened was “It’s going to take some time.” Well, with the Thunder, they really haven’t looked out of sorts much at all this season, just not as crisp and explosive as we know they can be. That’s what’s been frustrating and yet encouraging about the first six games. The Thunder were winning, but not playing all that well. Finally, tonight, things started to piece together a bit.
But it’s still so very early. Which only means there’s more time to sync up, to improve, to make these type of games more of a regularity.
“We’re nowhere near our peak,” said Kevin Martin. “And that’s what’s scary about this team.”
- Just going to go ahead and get it out of the way: I love Kyrie Irving. He is just a spectacular player.
- The box score is fun to look at tonight. I love those kind of games.
- Thirty-one fast break points for OKC tonight, a season-high. Obviously the Thunder are outstanding running, but they haven’t seemed to have much of an opportunity to. That was there tonight and a byproduct of it is that it relaxes everyone and gets players like Westbrook and Durant into a better flow. The fastbreak points are great, but it opens up the game for guys too.
- An excellent game from Westbrook, except for the turnovers. A few were just so careless and silly too. Eight is way too many, but then again, are you really that surprised?
- That said, Westbrook has quietly done a really nice job taking care of the ball this season until tonight. Entering this game he’d only turned it over 16 times (2.6 a game).
- Perk and Alonzo Gee, not friends.
- The bad: 21 turnovers, some really terrible. Blame Westbrook for that. Cut those turnovers in half and 16 really is a pretty decent number. You can survive it when you shoot 54.8 percent from the floor. It’s the games where you hit 40 percent where 20 turnovers will bite you. So the lesson: Keep shooting 54.8 percent.
- Westbrook, Durant and Martin combined for 69 points on 25-41 shooting. That’s pretty good.
- The box score had Ibaka with only seven rebounds, but it felt more like 15, for some reason.
- Westbrook has that hanging/drifting/soaring layup thing down. It almost looks like he’s in slo-motion in the air. It’s gorgeous.
- KD had one of those USA headbands on pregame, but decided not to wear it for the game. “I had it on in the locker room and the guys said they didn’t like so I didn’t want to be the only guy with a headband on.”
- Daniel Orton has really good running posture.
- Kevin Martin, just a +25 in a 15-point win.
- Martin on five guys in double-figures: “That should be us nightly. Four or five guys should have double-figures every night. There are great offensive players on this team and when we aren’t selfish or turning the ball over, that can happen on a nightly basis.”
- It seems to me that Serge Ibaka’s positioning is a lot better than it has been in the past. He’s not lost on the defensive end, caught out of position in help or rotating. He’s where he needs to be a whole lot more.
- The Amazing Christopher, no more please. No more.
- Question: Say KD used the rip move and got fouled but then threw it up and it went in. Is that an and-1, or is it a non-shooting foul still? I really have no clue what the answer is.
- Perry Jones finally got a touch in his second quarter minutes. It was a post-up that he very clearly got away with a travel on. And he shot it left-handed, for some reason.
- How good was that underhand fake on Thabo’s fastbreak?. Completely fantastic.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @JamesChismYoung: “Oh my, he had Danny Gibson up in his jock strap!”
Next up: At Detroit Monday.