With the Thunder completely going through the motions in Detroit, about to drop one heckuva an ugly game to the 0-7 Pistons, Oklahoma City needed a spark. Trailing by 11 headed to the fourth, it almost looked like the Thunder were comfortable with dropping this one. One guy most certainly wasn’t. Not today. Not on his birthday.
If you’re a Thunder fan, you know. You get it. While those around you are trying to burn Russell Westbrook down, blasting him for stupid shots and reckless plays, you just shake your head. Sure, Westbrook frustrates you too, but there’s a reason he’s one of the most endearing players on the roster.
Because he doesn’t quit. He doesn’t quit coming. He doesn’t quit competing. He can play three quarters of senseless basketball but show up absolutely massive when it counts.
Because he does not quit.
Westbrook scored 14 of his 33 points in the fourth, hitting all four of his shots. His ridiculous playground move on Brandon Knight was the play of the night, but his most impactful play in securing the win was probably his offensive rebound with 12 seconds left. Classic Westbrook. All the way around. He shot just 11-25, missed a bunch of looks at the rim, forced some headscratchers and seemed to be out of control. But he didn’t turn it over (only two, both in the fourth) and most importantly, wouldn’t say die.
Something changed in the Thunder heading into the fourth. Not only did Westbrook quit sucking, but the energy picked up, the effort on the defensive end was intense and there was a sense of urgency that was lacking the first three quarters. Part of it was a simple lineup adjustment. After making some seriously weird decisions, Scott Brooks went small the entire fourth with Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Thabo, KD and Serge Ibaka. Offensive-minded, but that group held Detroit without a bucket the first four and half minutes of the fourth, forcing nine straight missed shots to start the fourth as Westbrook and Durant sparked a 13-0 run to dig OKC out of its hole.
The Thunder deserve most of the credit, but you can’t overlook how dumb the Pistons played the first few minutes of the fourth either. Detroit was running the basketball equivalent of three straight runs and a punt. They were trying to drain the 24 down and take a shot, but couldn’t get any clean looks and when they did, the Thunder swatted them away.
Even still, it looked like the Thunder might spoil a great comeback effort and come away empty-handed anyway. The Pistons went up 83-81 with 3:12 left after a Knight 3 and held an 85-84 lead with 1:20 left. But Thabo knocked down two free throws, the Thunder came up with a big stop on a three-second call on Greg Monroe which opened the door for Durant to put things on ice with a tough baseline runner.
On paper, no, you shouldn’t be impressed with the Thunder beating an 0-7 team by two. But in reality, this was a pretty fantastic win. Second of a back-to-back, fourth in five days and a pretty terrible performance all the way around. OKC shot only 37 percent from the floor, Durant and Westbrook combined to go 19-47 from the field, Martin only hit 2-8 for 13 points and they only hit one 3 as a team. And they only appeared to care for one quarter.
But they won. Somehow, they won.
- I think OKC’s fourth quarter lineup is going to become their primary crunchtime playoff lineup: Westbrook, Martin, Thabo, Durant and Ibaka. As long as they can rebound, which they struggled to do at times tonight, I think they can defend well enough to get by. It worked tonight as they switched every pick-and-roll because there’s a ton of versatility. Unless someone can break OKC down with a specific matchup, it seems like it should work.
- Brooks nearly messed up pretty big time by not putting Martin in until four minutes left in the third. The Thunder offense was completely stalled, the team was flat and yet Brook was just sticking with that starting five. He got away with it, but it still probably wasn’t a wise choice.
- KD just didn’t look all that into the game to me for most of it. But then again, he played 44 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back, grabbed nine rebounds, scored 26, had four blocks and played some really good defense late. So I guess he was more into it than I thought.
- The Thunder have had 20 assists in every game so far this season. They only had 10 tonight. But then again, it’s kind of hard to get assists when nobody makes a shot.
- OKC won this game at the free throw line: 37-42 from the stripe.
- There were multiple times early in the game that Durant seemed frustrated with Thabo either about not shooting or not doing… something.
- Another very solid defensive effort. Just 39.8 percent shooting shooting for Detroit, and a fifth straight game with an opponent under 95 points.
- It’s truly kind of amazing how many short looks Westbrook misses. He’s only shooting just over 50 percent at the rim this season. That’s pretty terrible.
- Serge Ibaka played one of the best defensive games I can remember. He didn’t rebound that well, but in anchoring the paint, he completely sealed the Pistons out. He finished with six blocks (13 the last two games), but it was just the swats. Nothing was there for Detroit inside in the fourth quarter.
- This block by KD on Brandon Knight. I don’t know if there was any air left in the ball after it.
- I wouldn’t say Martin was frozen out in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder definitely weren’t looking for him. He just took one shot as it became the Westbrook-Durant show. For good reason, but it’s not like the Thunder ran anything to get Martin involved scoring.
- The World of Westbrook is a wild place. I think we can all agree he played mostly terrible until the fourth quarter, yet he didn’t have a single turnover for most of the game. Contrast that to last night where he played terrifically, but turned it over eight times.
- Jeremy Lamb saw three minutes in the second quarter and here’s my impression of his time: Yep, he’s definitely a rookie. He was lost in defensive rotations, threw a really lazy post entry pass that resulted in a turnover and made little to no impact. But it was great to see him get some minutes because he had to get those out of the way at some point.
- Subbing in Lamb completely killed OKC’s rhythm and absolutely had an impact as the Pistons went on a big run, but the Thunder should be good enough to recover from that. And that’s what Scott Brooks expected, rightfully so.
- Kevin Martin is one of the smartest players I’ve ever watched. His pacing and understanding of angles, pressure and contact is incredible.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.”
Next up: Big one Wednesday at home against the Grizzlies.