It’s still November. The season is still young. There’s still a lot to go. Still a lot of time left.
But as much as the Thunder could need a game 12 in to the season, they needed this one. And they played like it.
It was one of those desperate efforts where you could see this one meant just a little bit more. Without a signature win yet this season — in fact, just one victory over a plus-.500 club — the Thunder weren’t only hosting a good team, but one that appears to be positioning high in that “legit contender” tier. The Clippers are good. Real good.
So yeah, it meant more.
“Perk said before the game we were 0-2 against top teams in the West right now so it felt good to finally get one of those wins,” said Kevin Durant. “But we move on now. It was a collective effort from everybody on both ends and I’m glad we got the win.”
Those two previous games — against the Spurs and Grizzlies — the Thunder were tight and in it, but unable to close and finish. Something was missing, whether it be on the final few possessions or a quarter-long lapse that dug too deep a hole. The record is pretty sexy at 9-3, but there can be fool’s gold in wins. Beating up on teams you’re supposed to handle is nothing to gloss over, but it’s also not something that bears a great takeaway. Not something that makes you think that yeah, this team really does have a grip on things after trading a core piece before the season.
Now though, the Thunder have that win. And they had to play well to get it. It’s one thing to beat a good team, but it’s another to beat them when they play well. The Clippers absolutely showed up. They were as locked in as the Thunder and with wins over a number of top teams, they’ve proven that they’re serious about their perch in the West. Plus, the Clippers are a team the Thunder have had issues with in the past, an apparent nightmare playoff matchup.
But what was pretty obvious is that while the Thunder have problems with the Clippers, it’s a two-way street. Without Grant Hill and Caron Butler out, Matt Barnes was left to defend Durant virtually all night, something that favored OKC big time. And while DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin create big problems inside, Scott Brooks made a wise choice of sicking Thabo Sefolosha on Chris Paul, which kind of sort of worked out. To the tune of CP3 having one of the worst games of his life, a 2-of-14 nightmare with four turnovers.
“Just a lot of energy,” said Thabo, trying to downplay his stellar defensive lockdown of the league’s best point guard. “I know me personally, I rely a lot on the help. On the big men. And they did a great job of helping me.”
Thabo can try and pass off his effort, but this is what he does. He did it against Tony Parker in the Western Finals and he did it to CP tonight. He disrupts and completely throws players out of their rhythm. I was a tad surprised Brooks deployed Thabo on Paul instead of saving it for a potential secret weapon in a playoff series like with Parker and the Spurs last year, but whatever. It’s not like it’s some big surprise the Thunder used their best defensive player on the other team’s best offensive player.
“We started the game on Chris with Thabo,” Brooks said. “Thabo is one of those guys that he just stays with the basketball. He just keeps pursuing. Screens don’t bother him. He makes that decision that screens aren’t going to bother him and he’s going to fight through every pick … I give him credit. But also, Chris Paul missed some shots tonight that he normally might make. I think it was a combination of the two.”
That last line from Brooks is key. Perspective. While the Thunder got a big one here, it’s only one and the Clippers can look back and feel like they let one get away.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Paul. “I think the most frustrating part is that we had the opportunity to win it and regardless of what anyone says it’s going to be hard for us to win a game when I play that bad. It’s a tough loss because you work so hard but there’s just going to be nights like that.”
A much-needed win, but certainly not one without warts. The last possession of regulation comes to mind first, a debacle in which Russell Westbrook tried to get the ball to KD who was denied far too easily by Blake Griffin which resulted in a wild heave from Westbrook leaving CP3 and the Clips a chance to ice at the buzzer. Luckily Westbrook defended well (and didn’t go running to cover an invisble man on the wing) and OKC survived. Once it got to overtime, the Thunder found that extra gear, dug in defensively, got stops, made shots and closed out an extremely good win.
I wrote it down about halfway in the fourth and a friend texted me the exact same thing: This felt like a Thunder game. Really the first one of the season I think I could really say that. The stars starred it up, the crowd buzzed with noise and energy and the good guys made more plays than their opponent. They messed up, made stupid mistakes and took dumb shots. To which again, it felt like a Thunder game. But they overcame, played on and pulled it out.
These are the kind of efforts you can build on. Especially when you’ve spent the last month trying to convince yourself you’re good. Now, there’s finally some proof.
But now that that’s out of the way, on to game number 13.
- KD on the defensive strategy with CP3: “His missed shots we really wasn’t concerned about. It’s him coming off pick-and-rolls, finding guys, getting hockey assists, stealing the ball … I think Thabo did a good job of using his length a little bit and making him take jumpshots and he missed a few.”
- Brooks on that last regulation possession: “We have to do a better job of getting Kevin open. It’s something we’ve done in the past and something that we have to keep working on. The play was to get Kevin the ball and we didn’t do a good job getting him open. I take the blame on that.”
- Brooks went small early, but didn’t show it much. He was clearly a little leery of his bench, so he staggered his sub patterns to have at least two of the Westbrook/Martin/Durant trio on the floor at almost all times. Only time two of the three weren’t on the floor was the last 20 seconds of the third and the first two minutes of the fourth.
- KD: 19-21 from the line.
- Kevin Martin was quietly brilliant. He did his usual thing of scoring two points for every shot (20 on 10 attempts), but he played some pretty stellar on-ball defense on both Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe. In a battle of probably the West’s two best sixth men, Martin won it hands down, on both ends.
- Perk played 33 minutes and was 0-1 from the floor for zero points and four rebounds. It’s one of those games where it’s pretty easy to yell things like, “WHY IS KENDRICK PERKINS PLAYING?!” But then again, I do think he contributed to winning this game. Was he especially good? Did he make big plays? Did he make an obvious impact? Nope, not really. Still, he had a presence out there and neither Griffin nor DeAndre Jordan could get much against him on the block.
- It should be noted though: That big deflection with a minute left in overtime and OKC up three came via Perk.
- Westbrook appears to have added a little something to his 3-holsters with his swooping holstering motion. Approve.
- How Russell was that pull-up 3 from Westbrook early in overtime for OKC’s first basket? So Russell. Said Westbrook: “I mean I got confidence in my shot regardless of where it’s at on the floor. I just got confidence.”
- In defensive rebounding Perk is like one of those big defensive tackles that just tries to take up space inside to try and allow his linebackers to make all the tackles. A fine strategy if you have Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis behind you. But OKC doesn’t exactly have glass cleaners.
- If you aren’t convinced Hasheem Thabeet is a capable if not decent backup center, then you’re not paying attention.
- The first time this season I can definitely say The Peake was fully alive.
- A plus/minus oddity tonight: Thabo, who was pretty outstanding, was a -4. Thabeet, who was very solid, a -1. The only two minuses on the team.
- Russell Westbrook leads the league in getting hit in the face. Or possibly, acting like he got hit in the face.
- Chris Paul is amazing and all, but it should be noted that right before halftime he had Perk guarding him for an entire possession and settled for a fadeaway 3 over him, bricking it badly. Those are the types of shots that some people would want to set Westbrook on fire for.
- KD hit this poor lady in the face with a wild pass, so since he’s Kevin Durant, he went over and gave her a kiss.
- One of these times Serge Ibaka bites the ball, he’s going to get a little too carried away and actually deflate it. Just watch.
- One of my favorite plays of the game: DeAndre Jordan was set to have an extremely easy two-handed dunk and at the last second, knowing he’d likely get postered, Perk challenged him at the rim. The play ended up an and-1 for Jordan — so a bad play, technically — but just the fact that Perk was NOT just going to let Jordan have those two points uncontested is what makes him Perk. 3
- General rule of thumb: If the guy trying the Midfirst halfcourt shot is left-handed, he has absolutely no chance.
- I didn’t see it because I was at the game, but evidently Kevin Martin responded to a Chris Broussard question at halftime about how the Thunder scored all over the Clips by saying, “We all know we’re the best offensive team in the NBA.”
- If Eric Maynor had to retire from basketball, I think he could make a full-time living just shooting halfcourt shots for money. He’s crazy good at it. He came within inches of drilling one from about 55 feet tonight.
- A couple people asked about Eric Bledsoe: Here’s what OKC traded him for on draft night: A future protected first round pick, that they ended up shipping to Boston in the Jeff Green/Perk deal. So, would you rather have Bledsoe, or Reggie Jackson?
- Small thing I love: When the national anthem is being sung and the big screen puts on a guy and his girlfriend nudges him to tell him they’re on screen and then they have to act all stoic like they don’t care.
- Loved the Thunder giving Serge Ibaka some late looks in overtime. He hit one big one and missed the other. But it was nice to see OKC run some action that involved Ibaka. Diversifying and incorporating all those pieces is big.
Next up: Friday at Boston.