(Of the Northwest Division. For a third straight year.)
With a solid 106-90 win over Portland tonight, the Thunder put away their 59th victory of the season, hung another division banner and overcame maybe the biggest remaining hurdle to locking up the West’s top seed.
Behind an electric 33 points from Russell Westbrook that included 17 coming in an explosive third quarter, the Thunder just overwhelmed the shorthanded Blazers over the 48-minute haul. Portland made a strong second quarter run to take a late lead, but after Thabo Sefolosha splashed another halftime buzzer-beating 3, the Thunder use a 26-7 third quarter to put things away. So if you’re scoring at home, the third quarter was Westbrook 17, the Portland Trail Blazers seven.
Westbrook’s offensive eruption was great, but within that he also held sensational rookie point guard Damian Lillard to just 10 points on 3-14 shooting. With the Blazers missing Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge really were their only hopes of staying in the game. But with Westbrook erasing Lillard — who didn’t score until the third quarter — and Aldridge going 6-14 for just 12 points, the Blazers just didn’t have enough to keep pace with OKC.
The Thunder were down a couple guys too with Kendrick Perkins sitting with a strained hamstring and Kevin Martin resting a sore back. The Blazers have a horrifically horrific bench, but without Martin, the Thunder’s second unit loses a lot of punch. Enter Reginald Jackson, who did more than fine picking up the second unit scoring duties as he notched a career-high 17 in 28 minutes, with four rebounds and two assists.
Jackson got extended time because of the Thunder’s big fourth quarter lead, but he continued to show his offensive ability, most notably in attacking the basket. He used his strong upper body to clear space in the air, and finished extremely well with both hands. As the playoffs near, the Thunder have something here with Jackson. And he showed it again tonight.
Outside of the Thunder wrapping up an impressive three-game road trip and bringing the Western Conference lead back to OKC with two home games, probably most important storyline from this game was Kevin Durant’s 16 points. With just 16 (in basically only three quarters of play), Durant has almost assuredly seen his three-year reign as the NBA scoring champ end. An incredible run for a guy that turned 24 years old right before the season started.
I wanted KD to win it again because of the historical ramifications, but I’ve been incredibly impressed with his level-headed play these past two weeks. He knows about the scoring title and the names it would put him with. But he’s played mature, smart basketball. He’s made the extra pass when it’s been there. He’s taken open shots when he’s gotten them. He’s just stuck to his game and kept all that outside stuff right there — outside.
Here a bright side to it too: No scoring champion has won an NBA title since 2000. So maybe KD playing “smart” these past few games was really the equivalent of a golfer leading the Masters par 3 tournament hitting one in the water on No. 9.
Whatever the case may be, Durant’s setting a really positive tone here for the Thunder. Another game with five guys in double-figures (now 27-3 when that happens) and another game where the Thunder moved the ball, spaced the floor and executed. The Thunder were extremely impressive on this three-game trip and while their regular season isn’t over yet, they’re in real good shape when they come back home.
- Along with clinching the Northwest, the Thunder also locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed.
- With Perk out, Hasheem Thabeet started and played a quality 18 minutes. Nothing special (two points, six rebounds, four blocks), but he protected the rim and played big.
- Thabeet played half a season in Portland last year, so he has a little history with Blazer fans. After taking an inadvertent shot from LaMarcus Aldridge, Thabeet remained under the basket and presumably after hearing some heckling, busted out an unfortunate gesture. KD might not be the only player hearing from the league office this week.
- After the game, Thabeet denied the gesture, telling Ben Golliver, “I just fell.”
- After Thabeet went down, the Thunder called on Daniel Orton for some minutes. I’ll say this about Orton: He’s active. Very rough around the edges, but the dude is competing.
- Serge Ibaka’s stuff of Damian Lillard at the rim with Russell Westbrook doing the finger-wag for him was splendid. $25,000 fine coming for Westbrook in 3, 2, 1…
- When Will Barton scored, he ran down the floor looking into the crowd.
- Without Martin, Ronnie Brewer saw some regular minutes and while he was good on the defensive end, woo boy, he can’t shoot. He airballed a clear 15-footer and barely caught iron on another.
- Pretty big bummer Jeremy Lamb is with the 66ers because this was an opportunity for him.
- Really wanted KD to tear off his jersey and run around DXing everyone after he dunked tonight.
- Ibaka’s spot-up game is nice. He’s really good at facing up and knocking down shots. Next evolution of that will be for him to back down that defender then turn and face up. Having that dribble move will put more fear in a defender and create a little more space.
- Quick thought on KD’s fine: Why is the throat slash so frowned upon? Why is finger guns and 3 holsters fine, but the throat is off limits? To me, common sense with this stuff is necessary. And besides, it’s not like KD literally meant he wanted to kill everyone with a silly little throat slash.
- Also, was the “menacing gesture” actually the throat slash, or the praying? #heynow
- So, I’m cutting this a little short because Kobe tore his Achilles tonight and that’s now keeping me busy.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Wait, wait. He’s scores 17 points in the quarter and you’ve got some knuckleheads back here going “airrrrball? Gimme a break!”
Next up: Monday at home against the Kings.