On the whiteboard tonight in the Thunder’s locker room pregame written in all caps with stars around it were the words “home court.”
Pretty clear what that meant. The Thunder had to defend their castle, and to do so, they had to take the Magic seriously.
And the Thunder most definitely did for the first 32 minutes or so. They roared to 73 first half points shooting 63.9 percent from the field while maintaining very solid defensive intensity. The bench was fantastic providing a secondary spark to follow up behind the first five. It looked like another one of those three-and-out nights for the starters. All they had to do was close out a few minutes well and it was going to be to the bench for them to wave towels and cheer on the garbage time All-Stars.
But the Thunder had a major lapse in focus that started with Kevin Durant giving the ball away like it carried a disease, continued with 14 missed free throws and eventually built into OKC letting its 27-point lead slip all the way to four with five minutes left.
“Our focus was inconsistent throughout the game,” said Scott Brooks. “We pride ourselves on being more focused throughout the game and every possession, but that was not the case tonight. That’s something we have to get better with.”
They got it together though and finished on an 11-2 run to put away Orlando, which gives the Thunder a seventh consecutive double-digit home win. All in all, the expected result. The path there maybe wasn’t ideal, but a win is a win is a win is a win.
“We made plays when we needed to and of course we are still growing, but I’m not disappointed in a win,” said Durant. “We never try and take those for granted because I remember when we weren’t winning games. Of course we could be a little better but we can’t take a win for granted.”
Russell Westbrook was asked if there was anything to take away from the team getting its act together to close.
“We won,” he said.
So yeah, that was the message. Good message. Strong message. The most important message.
The way the Thunder slipped is certainly a negative, but there is a major positive and that’s the way the bench performed. Other than the last five minutes, you could make a very strong case the second unit outplayed the starters tonight. OKC’s bench outscored Orlando’s 38-6 and even during the early fourth, led by an aggressive Kevin Martin, seemed to be the stronger unit.
“They were the ones that got us that lead. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t play up to their level, the first unit.” Durant said. “That comes back to me, just turning the ball over, not being aggressive — that’s contagious, especially from your leader. I can take this one.”
Martin had 15 and attacked from midrange in the fourth. Perry Jones III saw 11 minutes with time coming in both the first and second half. Nick Collison was Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson made some plays and Derek Fisher hit some shots.
You might have read that previous paragraph and said, “Wait a second, Perry Jones played?” He indeed did. And played very well too. He scored eight points on 4-5 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. He gave the Thunder a very nice look off the bench and provided Brooks with some needed lineup versatility. Where did the minutes come from? Brooks said postgame it wasn’t because Hasheem Thabeet sat (sore back), saying Thabeet probably wouldn’t have played tonight due to Orlando’s smallball lineups. Which explains Jones’ time. The Magic were ridiculously small at times with Arron Afflalo playing power forward, so Brooks wisely deployed Jones to be a super stretch 4 and he produced. Wonderful to see and hopefully it gives everybody a little more confidence to try it more.
“I felt comfortable thanks to the vets,” Jones said. “They’ve been talking to me and getting me ready. They’ve definitely been preparing me since shootaround today.”
On the bench’s performance overall though, it needs to come with a necessary addendum: Orlando’s second unit is garbage. So don’t read too much into OKC’s doing work. Because that’s been a trend for a lot of the second half of this season. The Thunder’s second unit looks stout against bad and average teams, but fails to show against the good ones.
But in a game that wasn’t interesting until the Thunder made it so, the bench’s effort is certainly something to talk about, most notably Jones. Because while the close was nice, it should’ve never been needed. It happens though. The Thunder got bored and started trying to statpad a little in the third and the Magic scrapped their way back. It didn’t cost anything, which is the takeaway.
Like Brooks said perfectly postgame, “The best part about this game, is that it’s over.”
- Durant looked much more locked in tonight, from start to finish. Which is weird, because for stretches, he actually played worse. In the third quarter, he actually turned the ball over on four consecutive touches. He just completely forced things and fell entirely out of his rhythm.
- OKC scored 73 points in the first half, a season-high for points in a half. Then scored just 44 in the second half.
- Serge Ibaka was quietly terrific. He had 20 points on 8-10 shooting with three blocks and six rebounds. And it was his block and outlet to Thabo which led to Durant for a layup that really sunk the Magic’s comeback.
- Perk and KD got into a little talking thing late in the game while Durant was taking free throws. It looked pretty clear that it was heated and that there were some f-bombs exchanged. “I always scream at Perk and he always scream back. We have a great relationship. He’s like my big brother. Sometimes you’re going to have those arguments. As soon as I made that free throw we’re smiling back down the court. So that’s the best part about me and Perk.”
- Full disclosure: I tried to wait to ask Perk about the exchange but he must’ve fallen asleep in the ice tub or something because it was taking FOREVER and I finally gave up. You win this round Perk. You always do.
- Kevin Martin missed two of three free throws in the first quarter when fouled on a 3. In related news, Satan put on a scarf.
- KD also missed two in the first quarter. On all four misses, Perk did not yell “Get in there gurrrrl!” And then he did not continue it in the second half. I’m choosing to believe it was all his fault.
- I was really impressed by KD in the second quarter during a 2-on-1 with him and Thabo. KD wasn’t scoring the ball well and could’ve easily forced it and attacked on his own, trying to force free throws. Instead, he made the correct play and lobbed to Thabo who finished an easy layup.
- Jackson’s little two-hand windmill wasn’t bad. Wasn’t great either, because he almost missed it.
- It’s hard to know where Tony Brothers’ hair ends and his eyebrows begin.
- I’m telling you, nothing beats Perk’s back-pedal to defense after he knocks down a jumper. Nothing. Lumbering swag out the you know what.
- Westbrook has sort of holstered his 3-pointer guns. He hit three tonight and only flashed the guns once.
- Nick Collison did some hands on coaching with Perry Jones in between the first and second quarter. Literally was out on the court showing him how to reset on a screen to set his man up. #VETERANLEADERSHIP
- Vucevic can play. I like that dude.
- Perk was pretty good, especially rebounding and passing the ball. He had 12 boards with three assists.
- OKC shot 63.9 percent in the first half and 55.3 percent for the game.
- OKC outrebounded Orlando 52-33.
- Brain lock by KD in the second quarter after he turned the ball over. He blatantly grabbed Tobias Harris to try and stop an Orlando break, except the problem was, OKC was already over the limit. Two free points for the Magic.
- Derek Fisher’s butt is seriously so high. He would’ve been great in Magic Mike.
- Can I be honest? I wasn’t completely mad at Orlando’s run that gave the starters — specifically KD — another chance to get minutes and pad their numbers a bit. I’m a terrible person like that. KD had 12 points pretty late in the third, but finished with 26 thanks to nine fourth quarter points. In fact, KD’s second half tonight he scored 14 on 5-7 shooting. The second half Wednesday he had 15 on 5-6 shooting. I see a trend.
Next up: At Dallas on Sunday.