Thirty-five to thirteen. That’s really what Friday’s game in Boston came down to.
Boston’s bench 35 points. Oklahoma City’s, 13.
If you’re perusing the box score, that’s probably the stat you circle first in red ink. But naturally, it’s not only as simple as that. Because despite the porous output from the reserves, Kevin Durant had a pretty good look from 3 to knot the game with a little over a minute left. It was one of those standard Thunder comebacks where they just start flying around and out-talenting the other team. Russell Westbrook and Durant got to work, Scott Brooks finally seemed to get a handle on his lineups and the Thunder made a strong push.
In the end, too much Paul Pierce, not enough magic from Westbrook and Durant.
Back to the bench though, because that was the story of this game. And it starts with Kevin Martin’s terrible game. Martin’s line: 1-of-7, three points. And not a single attempted shot in the second half. How does this happen? You have one of the premier scorers in the league and he gets frozen out. That’s part on Martin, part on Brooks and a lot on Westbrook. For instance, near the end of the second quarter with Martin struggling a bit to find his shot, Westbrook knifed into the paint forcing defenders to collapse all over him. Martin stood entirely alone, within sight, on the 3-point line to Westbrook’s left. Instead, Russ put up a decent 10-foot look in the paint, which he made. Two points, high fives, yay.
But you could see the body language from Martin after Westbrook released it. He went from having his hands up ready to receive a pass to immediately dropping them to his sides. He resisted shaking his head, probably because Westbrook’s shot went in. Now, don’t misunderstand: Russell Westbrook played a very good game. Competed his butt off, put up nice numbers and if a Durant 3 drops — a shot I take every single day — there’s probably a little different perspective on this result. But at the same time, not utilizing your best pieces just isn’t acceptable because it means you’re not at your full effectiveness.
In fact, here’s how rough it was for Martin: Scott Brooks went to his best lineup with eight minutes left and the Celtics up 12. But with Westbrook, Martin, Sefolosha, Durant and Ibaka on the floor, the Thunder got it down to six. That was largely due to Westbrook and Durant though. I’m not joking: I don’t think Martin touched the ball for the three minutes that group was out there. The Celtics pushed it back to 10 and Brooks saw the same thing I did: If you’re not going to involve Martin at all, why play him? Put another big on the floor and just live off of Westbrook and Durant.
Brooks substituted Perk for Martin, the Thunder defended the paint, got buckets from their two stars and had a shot. Like I said, if OKC wins the game you can ignore the questionable lineup choices and the terrible secondary production and chalk it up to Westbrook and Durant saving the day. But even with a win it’s obvious: That’s not at all a winning formula. The Thunder play their best and are close to unstoppable offensively when the ball gets distributed equally amongst their best parts. That doesn’t mean Durant, Westbrook, Martin and Ibaka each have 25. It just means all the parts are functioning within the offense and a legitimate threat possession to possession.
And when you have an involved Martin, it means you have a sturdier bench. Because right now, the second unit is a legit concern. It’s impossible to watch the struggles of the reserves tonight and not see the need for help. Could that be in the form of trying to unchain Perry Jones III or Jeremy Lamb from the bench? Probably not. How about Reggie Jackson who has some solid playmaking skill? Eh. Maybe a deadline deal for an extra creator/scorer? Possibly.
Whatever it is, the Thunder second unit needs some firepower. James Harden hid all these issues because of his dynamic offensive skillset. There was a certain expectation that Eric Maynor could carry some of that burden, but it’s a little unreasonable to expect that from him, especially when he’s only getting 12-15 minutes a game.
It’s funny though, the highs and lows. Coming off Wednesday’s much-needed signature win over the Clippers, things felt much more normalized and a whole lot better than they’ve ever been for this team. Now? I’m already wondering about a deadline trade and griping about Westbrook. That’s just how it goes. Good thing they play again in 24 hours.
- OKC’s closeouts on Paul Pierce were embarrassingly bad tonight. The Thunder consistently fell asleep or lazily contested as Pierce just punished them from outside. Pierce was spectacular, no doubt, but he can make open looks when he doesn’t have a hand in his face.
- Ibaka with a second consecutive double-double. Longest streak in his career is three.
- Rajon Rondo with his 36th consecutive 10+ assist game. I’m not going to say that Rondo is not a tremendous, outstanding player, but let me say this: His assisting is incredible and there’s no denying he’s an unreal point guard. But shouldn’t players be evaluated to a degree by what kind of team offense they help produce? Make what you will about Westbrook, but he’s running one of the NBA’s very best offenses. Boston’s is mid-pack, if that. Point is, when you’re judging Westbrook this season, I think it might be wise to start with the Thunder’s offensive efficiency. I think that might tell the best story about his season.
- (Obviously the Celtic offense was on point tonight, but that hasn’t been the case thus far this season.)
- Something to think about from Haralabos Voulgaris: “I’d much rather have someone that attacks to score like Russ vs. a guy who attacks for 17 foot assist attempts.”
- If you look at the box score, outside of the bench difference, in just raw numbers, the Celtics really won this game with the 3-pointer. Similar turnovers, similar shooting percentages, similar free throw numbers. Boston made two more shots overall, and three more from deep, on seven fewer shots.
- Perk really played a pretty nice game. He was very much into it, defending inside and competing in the pick-and-roll game. Had the Thunder pulled this one, I think it would’ve had very much to do with the work Perk put in during his 30 minutes.
- Also, Perk was just out there, leading fast breaks and no-look passing. You know, typical stuff we see every night.
- Westbrook’s first quarter: 3-4, eight points, five assists, four rebounds, one turnover. His next three quarters: 7-17, 18 points, three assists, three rebounds, four turnovers.
- You knew that Jason Terry dagger was coming at some point. It was unavoidable.
- Maynor’s four assists is a season-high. That’s not a good thing.
- I know I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Ibaka made his first jumper ever after taking a dribble.
- Brian Davis asked Grant Long if he’d keep working if he won the lottery and Grant said that not only would he keep working, he’d probably just give all the money to charity. Grant Long is Ned.
- That Bob Mills commercial. Oh man.
- Biggest surprise of the night: It took almost 45 minutes for Westbrook to get hit in the face (or act like he did).
- Sight for sore eyes: Nick Collison and Kevin Martin hooked up on the old Harden-Collison backdoor play.
- “Russell Westbrook, his court vision is second to none.” — Grant Long, real quote
- Jeff Green pretty much torched his old buds tonight. It was probably his best game of the season — 17 points on 6-of-11 — and naturally, it came against OKC. It was the first time Green has played against OKC since he was traded and while some of emotion was taken out because it’s been more than a year now, it was still kind of weird to see him guarding KD.
- Strangely, not that big a deal made about the Thunder playing against Chris Wilcox.
- Obligatory mention of how good the home whites look with black shoes.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Durant running up the floor like Hopalong Cassidy.”
Next up: At the 76ers Saturday.