If we learned anything tonight, it’s that the Thunder’s second and third units might make the playoffs in the East.
With Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Martin and Nick Collison all sitting out tonight’s finale, and Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha all playing fewer than 10 minutes, it was up to the Thunder’s Garbage Time Kids to close out the 2012-13 regular season.
And while they played valiantly, they eventually both ran out of gas. and didn’t know where to find points in the fourth. They held a 70-68 third quarter lead, but it was pretty clear in the fourth they were fatigued as the Bucks started scoring almost at will and the shot quality for OKC got pretty bad.
One interesting thing to note though: The Thunder opened the game in a zone, and stayed in it for the first eight minutes of the game.
“We’ve done it a few times throughout the year, not a lot, but enough to see if we can change things up,” Scott Brooks said. “I liked it. We have some active athletes that can cover ground. I thought the starting unit did a great job setting the tone defensively with our zone. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to play Russell — obviously to keep his streak going — but I wanted to see how the zone would look. It’s something we might tinker without throughout the year and might use it again. We’re not a big zone team because we’re pretty solid in our man-to-man. It’s hard to score on our man-to-man.”
Brooks said pregame that one of the reasons he wanted Westbrook to play was that there were a couple of sets and things they wanted to try and get a look at tonight. And a source close to the team told me weeks ago that Brooks hasn’t done a ton of real coaching with this team this season, instead just kind of going with the flow, with the intention to ratchet things up in the playoffs. I don’t know what the Thunder have in their back pocket that they haven’t been showing, if anything, but it seems that there could be a few things they’re going to bust out. Zone, new sets, a few rotational adjustments — who knows.
But let’s talk about the two Thunder kiddos we haven’t seen much of.
On Lamb: His previous career-high in minutes was 12 coming in. He played 41 tonight, including the entire second half. He struggled shooting the ball, hitting just 6-21 from the floor, including 0-6 from 3, for 13 points. What went wrong mostly for Lamb was that he forced some, missed some good shots and found himself with the ball often as the shot clock was winding down. I don’t think his 21 shots are necessarily indicative of how much he was actually involved offensively. It’s not like he was just jacking up stuff. Most everything he took was in rhythm and open, and with the Thunder starved for offense in the second half, Lamb had to become a focus.
It often looked like Lamb didn’t have a real plan when he got the ball though. He didn’t seem to be comfortable trying to take people off the dribble and wasn’t good at drawing a whistle. The fact he missed open shots doesn’t bother me at all, because I know Lamb can shoot. It’s the other offensive stuff he’s got to clean up.
“Jeremy is a terrific — he’s not a good shooter, he’s a great shooter. He’s going to be soon. And he didn’t make shots,” Brooks said. “He was 0-6 from 3, missed a lot of shots around the basket. He has a great runner, a great pull-up game. But that second half, we didn’t make a lot of shots.”
On Jones: At times, he just looks completely uncertain of himself. Other times, he looks completely certain of himself. His face-up game needs work, in that he can’t just use the jumper as a crutch. I can only remember him facing up and putting the ball on the floor once, and when he did he finished a nice lefty runner with it.
He finished with 14 points (7-15 shooting) and nine rebounds, but I really feel like Jones should’ve played better. Because it’s obvious the talent he has to impact the game. But playing 39 minutes and only going to the free throw line once isn’t good enough. He needed to be more attack oriented and while I have no issue with him firing away in the pick-and-pop, there’s an aggressive nature missing to his game. For instance, one play that sticks out in my head: Jones made a nice move and created a little space with his body about 10 feet from the bucket. His defender fell away and Jones was left wide open. But almost like he had to go through a process, he still took a jab step, and a half pump before putting up, and making, his jumper. He just wasn’t confident with it initially and it was almost like he was working things out before he shot.
But now that we got through those 48 minutes, it’s on to the important stuff. The Thunder wrap the 2012-13 regular season with a 60-22 record, and await the opening round of the playoffs on Sunday.
- Reggie Jackson set a new career-high with 23, and finished with six rebounds and five assists in 36 minutes. Without him being the offensive focus, the Thunder just didn’t have a good option. And while it almost seemed like he could attack and score at will in the fourth, it didn’t look like he had the legs to keep doing it. Jackson was clearly worn out and while he could beat his man effortlessly, after doing it two straight trips, he was eager to give the ball up and stand on the wing for the next 18 seconds.
- Jackson on 2-pointers: 8-12. Jackson on 3-pointers: 0-6. It’s a real hole that needs fixing.
- By playing all the bench guys, the Thunder didn’t have a lot of options when it came to matchups and lineups. For instance, Jones actually played a lot of center tonight. Which is kind of neat that he can. Or at least try to.
- Jones played the first 16 minutes tonight and looked near death before he finally checked out.
- Daniel Orton was OK. He had issues fouling and kind of got lost out there at time. He was a lot better in the Kings game. I think he’s the type of player that really needs to comfort of a specific role when he’s on the floor. Just being able to concentrate on rebounding and defense is good for him.
- Lamb used a pump fake on almost every catch. Which is fine, but it’s not a very good pump and it was almost just like an offensive initiation move for him. Sometimes, you need to catch and go quick. Martin is great at this. It’s kind of like a pitcher. You’ve got your fastball, your change-up, your curveball, etc. Have to mix it up on defenders. You can’t show them the same thing every time, otherwise, they’re going to settle in on your game.
- The Thunder’s young guys, especially Orton, Lamb and Jones, are so emotionless. Make, miss, good, bad, whatever, they barely make a face.
- Lamb gets UP for rebounds. With those go-go-gadget arms and his bounce, he’s got the potential to be a tremendous rebounding guard.
- Saw Ronnie Brewer make a shot tonight. That was neat.
- During timeouts, KD hung out in the coach’s pre-huddle huddle as if he was an assistant or something. I don’t know why, but I really enjoyed that.
- Perk addressed the crowd pregame to say thanks and blah blah, and got a hefty ovation.
- Heard this heckle tonight: “Hey Dunleavy! You’re a poor man’s Danny Ainge!”
- Daniel Orton runs like he’s a T-Rex.
- Brooks admitted pregame really the only reason for playing Westbrook tonight was to keep his streak alive. “It’s an impressive streak,” he said.
- Westbrook only played the first seven minutes, checking out with 4:42 left in the first quarter, finishing with four points and three assists. But most importantly, 394 straight.
- We all would’ve loved to have seen KD try for 70 tonight. But let’s say KD played tonight, and did it. You KNOW there would be incredible backlash with people slamming him for putting an individual thing over the team, for being selfish, for whatever. It’s probably for the best that KD saved us those potential headaches just by sitting out.
Next up: The Playoffs on Sunday against either the Rockets or Lakers.