With the Wizards woefully shorthanded and playing the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder’s focus was obviously on winning first, but along with it, to get better.
In fact, that was the message on the whiteboard in the locker room pregame. “GET BETTER!” it said. In all caps just like that with red marker, too. And a few stars around it.
Mission accomplished? Eh, hard to say. The game was mostly uneventful and a bit uneven. And sort of downright odd. Get this: The most shots a Thunder player took tonight was 10, by Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook only took eight — which surprised even him — Serge Ibaka eight and Kevin Martin nine.
One thing the Thunder definitely did well was defend, holding the Wizards to just 32.1 percent shooting, including just 35 points in the second half. And a night after John Wall dropped 47 on Memphis, he followed it up with a dismal 3-18 shooting performance, including just 1-12 on jumpers.
“That was the premium tonight,” Scott Brooks said. “We wanted to make sure that he did not get in to the paint and get any easy shots early. We just wanted to make him a jumpshooter and I thought we did a good job with that.”
Part of the Thunder defensive plan was for Ibaka to seal the paint, something he did with regularity. He was the monster in the middle that he can be, blocking four shots, altering more and downright scaring Wizards players from coming near his territory. Refreshing to see, because at times this season, Ibaka seems to have been so focused on discipline that he’s forgotten what makes him such an interior force. Sometimes, he just needs to swat everything that comes into his house. When he does that, it can push opponents away from the rim, like it did Wall, and force them to rely on jumpers. Which is what happened to the Wizards.
“We made them miss,” Durant said. “If it wasn’t for the offensive rebounds, if we would’ve cut those in half, they would’ve had probably only 65 or 70 points. So that was a really good defensive effort by us and we’ve just got to continue to build on it.”
This game lacked much flow though as the Thunder paraded to the free throw line 41 times — making 37 — while the Wizards attempted 29. There were 49 fouls called and I could’ve sworn it was more like 89. It wasn’t especially sloppy, just frustratingly choppy. The Thunder attempted only 63 shots because of the free throws, and actually only scored 28 points in the paint. But they hit 8-14 from 3, shot 46.0 percent overall, added 37 points at the line and held their opponent to just 32.1 percent shooting. A pretty effective winning formula.
It’s a game I don’t think we can learn much from, though Durant did say postgame that he liked the progression of the team.
“Right now I know we love to win basketball games, but it’s about building our habits,” he said. “There are just 10 games left and we want to continue to play sound, solid defense, move the ball on offense and go out there and wreak havoc.”
That’s the position are at. Winning is the priority, but they’re as interested in that as they are about establishing a standard of performance heading to the postseason. They want to hone their defense, click on offense and make sure that the machine is tuned up and running the best it can when mid-April rolls around. With the Wizards so horrifically light tonight though, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for resistance, but the Thunder handled their business and won by 20.
- Two quick fouls on Westbrook in the first three minutes meant early minutes for Reggie Jackson, who played well in the spot. He had a couple buckets and ran the offense well with the starters.
- KD on if he’s paying attention to the scoring title: “Nah. Shots are going to come around for me, points are going to come around for me. It was balanced tonight. I had 10 shots, Serge had eight of them, K-Mart had nine, Russ had eight, so, who cares man. We won the basketball game and I’m happy for our guys for coming out and responding after losing to those guys before.”
- Tonight was a solid boost to the margin of victory. It went from +9.2 to +9.4.
- Is there a place to get numbers on what a guy is shooting on putback attempts? Because I feel like Ibaka would probably be at like 10 percent.
- Jeremy Lamb exists! He got to play with the starters for a solid 15 seconds in the fourth quarter. And then the garbage time crew checked in.
- Lamb got six solid minutes though and scored six points, all from the line. He had a couple of eyebrow-raising plays though, like his little baseline crossover and the two massive posters he went for but was fouled on.
- Seriously, that second one Lamb tried looked like he jumped off a chair or something. He was WAY up.
- The Heat’s streak might’ve ended tonight, but another carried on. Derek Fisher had now missed his last 18 shots. I assume ESPN will be picking up the rest of OKC’s games now too.
- A left-handed Thunder fan made two 3s for some free stuff during a promotion thing. Derek Fisher joke goes here.
- Quality game from Perk: 11 rebounds and six points in 21 minutes. And not that the Wizards had anything that good inside, especially with Nene out, but Emeka Okafor went just 2-9 and Kevin Seraphin 4-11.
- Nick Collison picked up the rare technical foul in the fourth quarter, tagged by the always awesome Violet Palmer. Collison appeared to say, “What do you want me to do, flop? You want me to flop?” After the game Collison was asked about it and his wisely deflected it saying, “For some reason we’re not allowed to discuss the officiating. I didn’t agree with the call at the time.”
- Scott Brooks loves to yell “Travel!” when the other team has the ball at seriously EVERYTHING, but it always kind of sounds like “Trabble!” which makes it kind of funny.
- That block by Ibaka on John Wall in the first quarter was something else. Ibaka’s quickness off the floor was crazy and he swatted it 10 rows up with his left hand.
- Another high quality performance from Kevin Martin (18 points on 6-9, 2-3 from 3). Rounding back into form at the right time.
- Excellent theory from someone that tweeted me tonight: The Thunder signed Derek Fisher to relax the criticism on Perk.
- Something Reggie Jackson does subtly well is how he clears space midair. He doesn’t really explode, but more just controls himself and is very good at using his body to create a little room to lay it in. He’s a really underrated finisher.
- Zach Zarba is the George Clooney of NBA referees. That’s my way of saying that yes, Zach Zarba is a good looking man.
- Pregame Sam Presti had a long conversation with Travis Ford. What could they possibly have been discussing?
- Pregame, John Wall was in a pretty hot jumpshooting competition with Sam Cassell. And Wall appeared to have won. Didn’t carry over though.
- As I sat at the press table after the game watching the Bulls and Heat, when Carlos Boozer put that rebound back with under a minute left, I heard a roar from up in the concourses somewhere. A bunch of Thunder fans had stuck around to watch and wear cheering like crazy for the Bulls. Kind of funny.
- One critique of Wall’s game is that he gets barely any elevation on his jumper. He’s almost shooting a set shot. That’s fine when you’re someone that spots up or doesn’t shoot a lot of contested jumpers, but for Wall, he’s got to lean back just a little to create enough room to even get it off. It’s probably too late to really make an adjustment to elevate on his jumper, but a little extra lift would really help. Look at Westbrook and the way he’s able to get those midrange pulls off any time he wants. It’s because he jump two feet in the air when he shoots.
- It was Military Appreciation Night tonight, which was terrific. I thought the Thunder did a great job of honoring those who serve.
Next up: At the Wolves on Friday