What Sunday’s game against the Knicks was to fun and exciting, tonight’s game against the Jazz was pretty much the opposite.
Instead of fast, explosive and offensive, it was slow, rugged, defensive and ugly.
The issues of Sunday’s game got corrected too. The Jazz shot 39.5 percent from the field, went 7-25 from the 3-point line and had only six offensive rebounds. It’s always a little hard to know if the Thunder actually focused on fixing those things, or if it’s a bit coincidental that the Jazz couldn’t make anything and the ball bounced more fortunately. Either way, the recent defensive disaster against New York is now a distant memory.
Kevin Durant should’ve had his fourth triple-double of the season, but came up an assist shy (21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists), as Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kevin Martin all missed open shots setup by KD. It definitely looked like KD was keen to get it as he repeatedly went for setups in the fourth quarter instead of looking for his own. And while that’s no good for his scoring title chances, I honestly loved it. Because not only did Durant illustrate what his focus is, but he continued to take what the defense gave him and didn’t force just to force. Then when he had the shot — a little 15-footer with two minutes left and OKC up seven — he took it and knocked it down clean.
(An aside about that: Seems to me that in situations where OKC’s playing with a lead, Durant is much more accepting of making “correct” passes and playing setup man. But when the game is tight, or the Thunder are trailing, he goes a bit more into force mode. Sometimes, forcing is good, because he’s Kevin Durant and forced shots are often good shots, but at the same time, keeping that trust with teammates for a full 48 is better. That’s the Miami Heat way, and they’ve been served well with that philosophy.)
And while the assisting was nice, considering Durant’s rebounding was an issue against the Knicks, his work on the boards was particularly positive. We all know KD can rebound. But sometimes it seems like he sort of has to commit to doing it.
Durant played big inside not just on the glass, but in playing the 4 too. Scott Brooks had the luxury of playing small a lot of the game with KD guarding Paul Millsap, something he did extremely well. Millsap wasn’t a factor on the boards at all (zero offensive rebounds) and couldn’t find his own offense (eight points, 4-11 shooting). That forced the Jazz to restructure and reconsider their five because with KD at the 4, they couldn’t utilize their strength and stay big.
Quietly, this is a really nice win for the Thunder. The Jazz are desperate in fighting for the eight-seed and are great at home, working over the Thunder the last time they played in Salt Lake. But OKC executed a plan very efficiently by defending the perimeter and the paint, handling the glass and scoring enough. Quality fourth quarter offense, smart basketball and good game management.
Though I can’t help but remiss the fact a loss might’ve been a deathblow to the Lakers. Alas.
- Russell Westbrook was solid (25 points, five rebounds, two assists) but I thought he got far too carried away one-on-one. He was consistently turning down an easy pass or an open shot to do something more difficult.
- Serge Ibaka showed up. He had 16, eight rebounds and five blocks. He was terrific defending Millsap, switched over well to guard Al Jefferson at times and did work on the offensive glass.
- The bench was mostly awful (14 points on 5-23 shooting), but Utah’s was worse (11 points, 4-14 shooting).
- Is it just me, or does it seem like the Thunder rarely win loose balls?
- Westbrook’s flying dunk >>>
- More and more teams are doubling Durant on every touch. The Jazz did it every time KD saw the ball anywhere from the free throw line in. Assuming OKC can adapt to it, this approach is going to fail for teams. Because the Thunder have quality shooters and some excellent cutters. Plus, Durant’s size makes it easy to pass out of a double.
- Paul Millsap got KD with the rip move. And KD argued it. Something something irony.
- Perk was good on Jefferson, not great. One thing Perk does extremely well with a guy like Jefferson is that absolutely nothing comes easy. The little three-foot jumphooks are six-footers against Perk.
- Only nine turnovers for the Thunder, as opposed to 17 for Utah. OKC was deflecting and stealing everything in the first half.
- Westbrook’s sealing steal and dunk was great. I couldn’t tell though if he meant to cock the ball to the side like that or if he just got off balance. Either way, it looked cool.
- One thing, among many others, that Derek Fisher is bad at is making an extra pass. If he sees the ball and he has a glimpse of space, he’s shooting.
- Lineup-wise, the starting five tore it up. In 20 minutes they were a +16. Other than that, the best lineup OKC had was a +4 (Jackson, Fisher, Martin, Durant, Collison).
- Good news: Nick Collison didn’t get bleed tonight.
- Thabo was ultra aggressive with his shot tonight, but that partly because the Jazz didn’t guard him. He hit 4-8 from 3 and missed two other wide open looks. I don’t know what the Jazz’s plan was there, but it wasn’t smart.
- For as cumbersome and heavy-footed Perk is, he sure is fantastic passer.
- Not a great game from Kevin Martin (2-9, five points), but he did hit a very nice 3 in the fourth quarter.
- Is it just me, or does it seem like Randy Foye shoots 90 percent on 3s against OKC? He was even 2-6 from 3 tonight, but before I looked I could’ve sworn it was going to be 4-4.
- Would’ve been cool if Westbrook didn’t miss 20 layups tonight.
- Tough scoring title night for KD. Just 21 points to Carmelo Anthony’s 36.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Ibaka had a NAKED jam, but Westbrook took a hard tumble.”It’s like a mudwrestling match in here tonight.”
Next up: At Golden State on Thursday.