Clearly, it was the jerseys. Undefeated in the new duds.
The basics here: The Thunder beat the now 0-6 Pistons, 105-94. Serge Ibaka set a new career-high with 25 points, KD finally scored 25 and added 13 rebounds with it and Kendrick Perkins tied for the team lead with six assists.
Really though, outside of the Pistons winning, nothing from this game was likely to be all that notable. The Thunder were going to win, probably fairly comfortably. This is one of those games that I’d file in the 40-degree win category. No big lesson, not really memorable at all. It just happened, that’s it.
And while the Thunder moved to 4-2, winning their third straight, I’d say this: They haven’t really played one good game yet this season. At least in terms of everything clicking and their best players performing to the capability.
“It could be a lot better. I’m never satisfied. It’s a long season, it’s an up and down season I know, but we could be a lot better,” said Kevin Durant. “We won, I want to say the last three games, I think. I lost track. But we’ve just to got to find a way to do it for 48 minutes as far as the energy is concerned. Of course you won’t be perfect, you’re going to miss coverages on defense, you’re going to miss shots. But our energy has to be there every second on the floor and that starts with me. I’ve got to be better and that goes down the line.”
Sans the game against Atlanta though, the defense has been pretty good. Offensively, things have been decent. But there hasn’t been a game where everything’s clearly started to click with Russell Westbrook and Durant both playing good together. Overall Friday, OKC shot 53.5 percent, had 21 assists as a team, didn’t turn it over ridiculously, shot free throws well and held Detroit to 41.4 percent shooting. In the box score, it all looks pretty good.
But like KD said, there’s a certain edge missing it seems. It might be as simple as both Westbrook and Durant haven’t scored consistently so far this season. Durant had 25 on 9-16 shooting but Westbrook struggled again shooting, hitting just 3-of-10 for 10 points. Maybe there’s a bright side to all of that though, because it’s meant more of a featured offensive role for Ibaka, who hit 9-of-13 from the floor for his career-high 25.
“Serge is as good a mid-range shooter as we have. And the reason why is because he spends a lot of time with coach [Mark Bryant] working on that,” Scott Brooks said.
Consider this little fun fact: Besides setting a new career-high, this is the first time Ibaka has had back-to-back games scoring at least 20 points. Obviously his role and touches are increasing with Harden’s departure, but it’s diversified OKC’s offense and given Westbrook a very good option to look to. One possession early in the first half, Westbrook ran a very deliberate two-man game with Ibaka, trying to set him up for an 18-footer. Eventually Westbrook drew Ibaka’s man over enough in help, dished it and Ibaka drained the shot. It’s a weapon the Thunder have had the last couple seasons, but now it’s becoming a featured part of OKC’s offense.
Bits and pieces of the team are coming together and while again, I don’t think the Thunder have played all that great, that’s really just the top guys. Because Eric Maynor turned in another very strong performance which by default, makes OKC’s bench so dynamic. There’s a very distinct edge for the Thunder when their second unit goes against the other team’s, and that starts mostly with Maynor. It took a little time to work back into the flow, but Maynor looks terrific and almost completely like his old self again.
Again, the only newsmaker here was going to be a Thunder loss. The Pistons are mostly terrible and while they played the Thunder hard, this was OKC’s game all the way from the tip, unless something went horribly wrong. It was about handling business, putting another win in the column and moving on to the next one.
- Let’s talk about the most important development of tonight: How the uniforms looked in action. I’m on record saying I’m not really a fan, but I do think they looked better on the floor. But my major hangup remains: They just look out of place. It didn’t look like the Thunder out there on the floor tonight. I love navy and white for uniforms, but not for the Thunder. At least not without something that ties it together and makes it look like the Thunder.
- Most Russell Westbrook thing ever tonight: He started the game 0-of-5 and for his sixth shot, took a 1-on-4 18-foot pull-up jumper.
- Ibaka has scored in double-figures five straight games. His career high in that is seven.
- Kevin Martin didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight. He went just 5-of-14 overall and 2-of-9 from 3. But he still scored 16, naturally.
- Something I’ve noticed: It seems like Scott Brooks is doing a lot less instructing during the game. He’s calling less plays and less involved in the play-by-play stuff. It looks like he’s leaving it up to Westbrook or Maynor to direct the offense a lot more.
- True story: I had that note written and then Maynor said this postgame: “Scotty’s been telling us just to be aggressive, just play basketball, try not to call too many plays, get some stops and run out in transition, play our pick-and-rolls, try and do that a lot now. And it’s working.”
- My favorite thing ever: When Perk randomly decides to try and be a one-man press.
- I will say this about Perk tonight: He clearly tried to spark OKC a little. He was trying to encourage a little more energy from the team and motivate them to play harder. And you have to give him credit: He defended Greg Monroe most of the night and Monroe struggled, going 6-15 from 14 points.
- Speaking of Monroe’s tough night, starting at the 3-point line, Perk took him 1-on-1 to the rim for a layup. I think that’s more embarrassing than a massive poster.
- Perry Jones III got some minutes again, but per the usual, not impact whatsoever. It was only five minutes, but it was a five trillion. And I can only think of him touching the ball once.
- Brooks on Jones: “I’ve talked to him and I’ve been in that situation before, and I’ve said to Perry or Reggie or whoever I throw in there those minutes, just play them as hard as you can. Just give me great energy. And that’s all I will judge. I won’t judge if you make your shot, I won’t judge if you make a mistake. I just want you to play with great effort. And he’s done that. He’s a very coach-able kid. I love the guy. He does everything that we ask … The minutes he’s received, I can’t complain about the effort.”
- Westbrook isn’t shooting the ball well because mainly, he’s not shooting the ball. Teams seem to have figured out more and more to try and funnel him to the basket and contest him hard when he gets there. As I’ve written before, the secret isn’t to force Westbrook to shoot jumpers. It’s to take them away.
- Mildly interesting moment: Late third quarter, the Thunder had a terrible possession where Kevin Martin got trapped with the shot clock winding down. He threw a grenade to Westbrook who caught the ball near halfcourt with about about a second on the 24. Instead of launching a prayer, Westbrook just held it. Didn’t want to damage the percentage further, I guess?
- Hasheem Thabeet sat resting a sprained ankle, which activated Daniel Orton. Brooks didn’t use him though, instead choosing to go smaller with his linueps, playing Nick Collison essentially as the backup center.
- Kyle Singler’s hair, man. Kyle Singler’s hair.
- Scott Brooks tried the Reggie Jackson-Eric Maynor backcourt experiment again tonight. Again, nothing notable from it.
- Steven Tyler’s seat was directly across from me and honestly, if I didn’t know it was him, I would’ve thought it was a woman. Actually, I’m still not completely sure it wasn’t.
- You know who loved the Kiss Cam tonight? Steven Tyler, that’s who.
- Thunder crowds are becoming more and more late arriving. Granted, the home opponents thus far haven’t been marquee by any means, but there just isn’t the same energy in the building it seems.
- I feel like I must point this out: Everyone was talking about James Harden after his 37 and 45-point performances, and rightly so. But after going 4-18 tonight, he’s now 17-57 (29.8 percent) from the floor his last three games, all losses.
Next up: Cleveland at home Sunday.