It’s probably a pretty good thing when a win is so uneventful that it’s hard to really think of much to write about. Really at no point tonight, other than when it was 0-0 and the ball was being thrown in the air by ref Bill Kennedy, was this game in doubt.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant picked up right where they left off in Phoenix where they scored 47 of 51 in the second half, scoring 24 of Oklahoma City’s first 26 tonight. Westbrook had 16 of those in the first quarter. The Nuggets as a team had 18.
“I thought we came out with great energy from the start on both ends of the floor,” Scott Brooks said. “We set the tone early with our defense and it allowed us to score 30 points in that first quarter, but it was good basketball.”
Westbrook finished with 32 — in 28 minutes — hitting 12-20 overall and 7-13 from 10 feet or more. He had the midrange game going and he was getting to the rim.
“What can you do?” Durant said about defending Westbrook when has his midrange going. “He can shoot a jumpshot, you pressure him and he can go to the rim. It’s a nightmare when he’s making that jumpshot. Hopefully he continues t keep making them. This game, last game, Laker game — he was terrible in Portland. Nah, but these last few games he’s been really good at scoring the basketball and taking pressure off of everybody else.”
Brooks went to his bench exclusively with 1:54 left in the first quarter and the Thunder holding a 10-point lead. But instead of the recent trend of the second unit failing to preserve big leads the starters hand over, tonight, they expanded on it. The final two minutes the Thunder outscored Denver 8-2 to take the lead to 16 heading to the second quarter. That right there maybe is a significant storyline.
“I thought that first quarter [the second unit] did a great job of extending that lead,” Brooks said obviously.
What was the difference? To me, it was pretty simple: Kevin Martin finally did what’s needed to be done with the second unit: He took over play. He asserted himself as a dominant handler and didn’t just linger around the 3-point line waiting for Reggie Jackson to set him up. He scored on a driving layup, then made another layup in transition and then knocked down a 3 set up by Jackson.
Roll over to the second quarter, and it continued. The lead went from 16 to 19 before Durant checked back in with 10:26 in the second. That’s +9 for the bench, which is terrific. Especially considering Denver has a pretty stout second group. With Martin in rhythm, he continued on even after Durant checked back in, knocking down another 3 and finishing another layup.
That’s been the plan all along is to sort of let Martin dominate the bench group, but unlike James Harden, he hasn’t seemed to take ownership over it. Harden relished his time on the floor being The Man, getting to play alpha dog for four or five minutes. Martin has seemed to sort of latch onto his role playing as support to Westbrook and Durant and hasn’t been able to transition between third banana and alpha very easily.
Martin finished the game with 20 on 8-12 shooting, including 2-3 from 3. He tacked on a few points late by cherry-picking, but he was much more aggressive and less of a spot-up guy. Hopefully, that becomes a bit more of a trend.
Obviously, you can’t really dissect this game without acknowledging that the Nuggets were on the second night of a back-to-back that including them going to overtime less than 24 hours ago. They clearly were lethargic early and the Thunder sensed it, and pounced.
“We knew these guys were playing back-to-back, playing in overtime last night so we wanted to give it to them and make them make quick decisions with the ball,” Durant said. “They are so good when they pass and get into the lane and kick out, so we just wanted to pressure them and make them take tough shots.”
(The Nuggets have been playing their best basketball of the season though, winning six straight. So that’s something to also consider.)
Now it’s on to the road for six away from The Peake, with a couple of challenging stops included. This is a pretty good sendoff though. Blow out a divisional opponent at home to continue a recent trend of dominance over them. And maybe find a little bit of something with that second unit in the meantime.
- Maybe the most interesting thing: Despite the blowout, Eric Maynor didn’t play. As to why, Scott Brooks said no real reason for it, just that he wanted to give Jackson and the young guys a little more time on the floor. “I know what Eric does. He’s been very professional in a tough situation. He wants to be out there and play with our guys. But he still works and he’s still looking for an opportunity and usually it comes around. You just got to keep working and staying positive and he has.”
- Early in the third quarter there was a weird shot clock violation, which really isn’t huge news. What is though, is the way Bill Kennedy completely took over the arena with his explanation. He blew his whistle and the arena went dead silent as he shouted out the explanation. It was incredible. Best moment of the night.
- Right after that came moment number two of the night: Perk isolated on Koufos and proceeded to back him down for like 30 seconds, and then hit a pretty nice baseline turnaround jumper. The crowd stood up and absolutely roared after it, as if it was a massive poster of something. Cracked me up.
- Durant on the play: “He when he started doing it, I was a little upset. Because that’s not what he do. But he made a tremendous move and that’s probably the most excited I’ve been in a game for a long, long time. I was still marveling at that play three or four possessions later.”
- After the game in the locker room, Serge Ibaka was challenging Perk to a game of one-on-one, obviously because of Perk’s move. Perk first told him he’s too old for one-on-one, then said, “I don’t want to kill your confidence man.”
- Perk on it: “That was the only play to make right there. I couldn’t get it to KD, I couldn’t get it to Russ, I just had to make a play so that’s what I done.” On if we can expect to see more of it: “Nah, nah. Once every 30 games.”
- Ibaka absolutely owns the defensive paint against the Nuggets. He had five blocks in 27 minutes and basically sealed off any penetration from Ty Lawson or Andre Iguodala.
- KD picked up his seventh technical of the season after dunking on Kenneth Faried. All he did was pull a little staredown-yell move.
- KD: “We just try to play up our level. We have a level we want to reach every single game. It’s the Thunder way of basketball. Defense first, playing off our defense and moving the ball. Guys are buying in. If you have a team full of guys that buy in, anything can happen. I learned that from Ray Lewis.”
- I saw Kevin Martin dunk three times tonight. For real. No hoax.
- Perry Jones shared the court with Anthony Randolph tonight for the fourth quarter. I hope he paid close attention to Randolph because if he’s not careful, that could be his Ghost of Christmas Future.
- DeAndre Liggins is just everywhere, all the time. I think he’s standing behind right now while I’m typing this.
- Nick Collison sat out the second half with a sprained right ankle. He’s day to day, but will likely play Friday.
- Corey Brewer’s headband is so low, it covers his eyebrows. He was about an inch from playing blindfolded.
- Little thing: When a ref clearly gets an all-ball call wrong and knows it, they always go with the “body” or “push” foul description. That’s what Pat Fraher pulled on Liggins stuffed of Randolph in the fourth. Everyone saw it was all-ball, but Fraher called it a push.
- Reggie Jackson really has pretty poor shooting form when you break it down. Arms spread out, took much motion to get the ball loaded into a good release spot.
- Hasheem Thabeet went 1-4 at the line tonight. He started the season a solid 20-25 (80.0 percent), but has since gone 7-17 (41.1 percent).
- I just noticed tonight how crazy long Jeremy Lamb’s arms are.
- Kosta Koufos really needs to let it go and just shave his head.He’s really not fooling anyone with that combforward. But in all seriousness, what a find by the Nuggets with Koufos. Very nice low post finisher.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “He was so wide open he could have had an entire baguette.. Forget the sandwich!”
Next up: At Dallas on Friday.