As yet another sellout crowd waited for its cue to be seated, Russell Westbrook set the tone with the Thunder’s very first bucket. Turning down a good shot for a better shot, Westbrook made a quick, correct read drawing a defender to make an extra pass to Serge Ibaka who splashed from 18 feet.
Simple, effective, smart offense.
It was the first assist of 29, but more than that, a play that accurately sums up the way the Thunder played Wednesday against the Warriors. Oklahoma City’s offense was unselfish and unfiltered, as the ball ping-ponged around routinely hitting multiple players’ hands before a shot went up. No single guy stood out in the assist column, which I think illustrates the point even better. Westbrook had five, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka four, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo each with two. Reggie Jackson had six, Kevin Martin four.
“It was one of our best passing games,” Scott Brooks said.
The game was opened up early on as the Warriors were gashed time and again. A night after giving up 140 points and 23 3-pointers, it seems they overcompensated on the perimeter and instead didn’t contest anything in the paint. The Thunder scored 64 points in the paint, a whopping number.
One thing can be said about Golden State though: You can’t let your guard down with them. The Thunder held a consistent double-digit lead throughout the game, but mini-spurts of 6-0 and 7-0 had the Warriors closing OKC’s lead to within striking distance, especially at the end of the third quarter. The Warriors had nicked the Thunder’s lead to 11 with the final 12 minutes to play, potentially making things very interested.
Except continuing the recent trend of strong bench play, a Durant and Westbrook-less lineup extended the lead to 23 in the first six minutes, completely snuffing out any chance of a Warrior comeback. The spark was led by Martin, who seems to be adjusting and settling into his sixth man role more and more. He dropped a runner to start things off, nailed a 3-pointer, finished a run-out dunk then splashed another 3. His assertiveness while playing with the second unit is making me feel less and less like the Thunder need help with the second unit. I still think they do, just not as much as I did three weeks ago.
But Martin actually diverted credit for his hot fourth to the Warriors. He said he wasn’t necessarily trying to take a more assertive offensive role or that he was looking to spark something himself. He basically was just pissed off.
“Coach Jackson talked to a couple of his bench players to make sure they got wet behind the ears before barking up a couple of our players tree,” Martin said. “You’ve got to take it personally. It wasn’t only talking trash, it was a couple dirty plays that helped inspire us as a team.”
The plays Martin was ticked about included a shove from Draymond Green and another play involving Green where he raised his elbows at Westbrook.
“I wouldn’t say they were too dirty, but they were playing physical and we don’t ever want to shy away from a physical game,” Durant said. “I think K-Mart did a really good job of getting mad and getting into a zone — he can get hot pretty quickly. That’s what busted the game open for us in the fourth quarter.”
Powered by Martin (21 points, 8-16 shooting, four assists), OKC’s bench piled up 45 points, 12 assists, 13 rebounds and shot 18-34 from the field. Reggie Jackson played maybe his most effective game of the season, scoring a career-high 12 points and looking as in command of the offense as I can remember. The lineup of Jackson, Martin, Sefolosha, Collison and Ibaka didn’t just work, it worked really well. Good flow, good balance of offense and defense, good connection and chemistry.
Here’s the best example of how strong the bench play was: Durant finished just a +2, Westbrook a +4. And the Thunder won by 21. That happens not very much ever at all.
It’s kind of a treat to finally get to write about a big Thunder win without gushing over how Durant and Westbrook were so terrific. Thing is, they were excellent in this game but for once, outshone by the bench. Durant just owned the first half. It was his personal playpen, and the other nine people on the floor were simply along for the ride. Westbrook continued his recent surge of quality performances and coupled it with a strong defensive effort on Stephen Curry (14 points on 5-20).
It’s the first back-to-back wins for the Thunder in a couple weeks and it seems like they sort of busted out of that choppy funk they had recently been in. The game against Dallas was a destruction and they followed it up by dismantling a very good Warriors team. The first half ball movement, the spacing, the hyperintense defense — it was just a thing of beauty. I don’t know if that’s the best the Thunder have played start to finish this season, but it’s up there.
- The Warriors had an interesting night last night. After losing to the Rockets, because of the crazy fog in OKC they had to redirect and land in Tulsa. Then like they were Daniel Orton, they commuted down the Kilpatrick Turnpike and got in at about 4 a.m.
- Brooks actually shortened his bench tonight, going with a regular rotation of just eight players, cutting out Hasheem Thabeet and DeAndre Liggins. Sign of things to come or just an adjustment for tonight? Brooks talked pregame about shortening the rotation a bit, but it’s certainly something to watch.
- Perk wasn’t lying: Martin’s defense is looking good. He’s energized, focused and intense on every possession. On the ball, he’s incredibly underrated. Great instincts, quick hands, quick feet. With his decreased responsibility in carrying an offense, he can lock in more on that end of the floor.
- Incredible moment between the first and second quarter as the Thunder honored officer Chad Peery, who stood up out of his wheelchair and walked to a roaring ovation. Every Thunder player was out on the court joining in on the standing ovation. If you don’t know Chad Peery’s story, read up here.
- Westbrook was wearing a customized Manchester United jersey with his name and number on the back. I tried to ask him if he’s a Man U fan, but he completely ignored me when I did. HASHTAG MAINTAIN THE MYSTERY.
- If Perk actually rebounded all the ones he got two hands on, he’d averaged 15 a game.
- Any time Nick Collison misses a wide open midrange jumper, Satan puts on a layer of clothing.
- Perk again looked very strong. Eleven boards and six solid points in 23 minutes.
- Martin worked his tail off showing and recovering in the second quarter, forcing a Richard Jefferson travel. He got a head nod from Nick Collison after it, which had to feel amazing. The ultimate help defense validation.
- The Thunder had 16 blocks tonight, which is pretty notable, but they blocked three or four jumpshots, which is extremely notable. Don’t see that very often.
- Perry Jones III went just 0-3 but really, I liked what I saw. He was aggressive and decisive with the ball, never hesitating to take an open jumper. He didn’t make them, but they’re shots he can. Also, after he missed his fifth, he pulled out KD’s signature spank move, which I thought was nice.
- After Westbrook picked a technical late in the third for protesting the high elbow from Green, I figured I should probably go stake out the tunnel for any forthcoming nervous breakdowns. But nope, nothing extra from Russ.
- Nothing says “ball don’t lie” like David Lee missing two free throws after Nick Collison was called for a block instead of a charge.
- Westbrook adjusted midair from a poster dunk to a finger roll layup. One of his more impressive plays, and that’s saying something. It really was a poster layup.
- DeAndre Liggins has a left ankle sprain and is day to day.
- Only Hasheem Thabeet could ruin an otherwise nice, powerful dunk by tripping over his own feet upon beginning his celebration.
- I failed to note it in the last recap, but Westbrook did it again tonight, so I get a reprieve: The pump fake on his PUJIT is a welcome addition. Very smart move.
- Tonight served as my monthly reminder that yes, Richard Jefferson is indeed still in the NBA.
- Another terrific example of the ball movement tonight: There was a play in the second quarter where the ball swung around and found Ibaka in the corner who had an open look but passed to Martin who was also open who fired it back over to Ibaka who paid off the 3. Gorgeous stuff.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via @ThunderBDSays: “KD with the jam! It sounds like someone throwing a fastball into mud!”
Next up: Phoenix at home Friday.