I always know I just watched a special game when I sit here trying to think of a good lede for 15 minutes. When I don’t feel like I have anything to say, but I have so many thoughts.
The roller coaster of emotions this team and this fanbase have experienced the past two weeks have been exhausting. From a Game 1 blowout to a near collapse in Game 2, to losing Russell Westbrook, to clawing their way to a Game 3 win, to Serge Ibaka missing in Game 4, to falling flat in Game 5, then to showing true heart and real progress in closing out Game 6 — it’s been a ride.
And it’s just the first round.
But regardless of what happens from here on out, it feels like the Thunder accomplished something. It’s painfully obvious this team is mostly a shell of its former self, but Game 6 felt like a growing-up moment for a team that’s pretty much all grown up already. Scott Brooks faced some hard truths and changed his starting five for the second half. Kevin Durant either scored or assisted on 16 of the Thunder’s 25 fourth quarter points in Game 6 after scoring zero with only two assists in the fourth quarter of Game 5. Kevin Martin scored 25 points, the most he’s had since Nov. 16, with 21 coming in the first half. Nick Collison played the entire fourth quarter. Reggie Jackson nearly notched a triple-double with 17-7-8 and only two turnovers. Derek Freaking Fisher was maybe the Thunder’s most impactful player, hitting three 3s and playing seriously good defense on James Harden.
(Sidebar: I need a paragraph — or two — dedicated to gushing about KD. People, check out his series: 32.5 points, 48.5 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 3.5 turnovers. Let me one-up that. Durant’s last four games, after Westbrook went down: 35.5 points, 51.1 percent shooting, 9.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 4.5 turnovers. Now, I’m not going to be so bold to bring up LeBron, but okay allow me to bring up LeBron. LeBron is still the world’s best, but come on people, the gap isn’t that wide.
And KD’s 24 years old still. He picked his team up and carried them. He owned this series. His effort on both ends, his leadership, his attitude, his body language, his production, his energy, his effort, his intensity, his drive, his determination — I’ve never been so impressed by him. He had to change who he was after Westbrook went down. He shucked away his efficient mindset and just went out and balled. He put his team completely first and went to another level. Can he keep doing it? He’ll have to, and judging by what I’ve seen from the dude, I think he can.)
The Thunder played with a sense of urgency, and with a new identity. The team they were in Game 6 is a team that absolutely can make noise in this postseason yet. Durant is evolving and embracing his central role as the Thunder’s lone offensive weapon. Jackson is growing. Martin, in no doubt about it the most important game of his career, answered the bell and then some. I’ve said it before, but this Thunder team has an infinitely smaller margin of error without Westbrook, but they’re still good.
Scott Brooks seemed to oversimplify things by saying the team just needed to play better, and really, he was proven right. They played with a harder focus, with a new edge and with a better sense of purpose. They knew who they were for 48 minutes. They rolled in the first half, then let the lead slip. They started sluggish in the third, falling behind 10 as the season truly appeared to be slipping away. But on the back of Durant, they responded, never wavered, never lost composure, never blinked. They showed true maturity and handled the situation at hand as well as they could.
I’m honestly blown away by this performance. By no means was every question answered. By no means is Brooks validated. The Thunder ended with the result they were supposed to. They advanced out of the first round. But their feet were to the fire and they were legitimately pushed. Maybe it’s good for them. They proved a little something tonight in Houston. They handled their business and they came together.
What happens next? Don’t know. Right now, don’t care either. It’s day-by-day, game-by-game with this team right now and surviving the wrong side of history feels pretty damn good right now.
- Standing ovation Derek Fisher. The Thunder’s X-Factor. I ragged on Fisher for a lot of the regular season after he was signed. And I stand by the things I said. He didn’t make sense. He still doesn’t make sense. But all that stuff be damned, the old man got it done. He hit big shots and holy crap, he played unbelievable defense on Harden. OKC doesn’t win this series without Derek Fisher. Real talk.
- Fisher: A +32 in 27 minutes.
- Really happy for Kevin Martin, because he felt that Game 5. You might’ve been frustrated with him, you might’ve been mad, but nobody hurt more than him. He knew he was too for that and he came out tonight with a new mindset. He knocked down some early shots and just kept going. The trust built and Martin started showing those all-world scoring skills. OKC’s gotta have more of it, but Martin proved he’s capable, and up to the challenge in the biggest moments.
- Scott Brooks shuffled his second half starters, going with DeAndre Liggins over Perk, and playing small the entire second half. It’s the first time I can remember Brooks EVER doing that.
- I know it had to be tough, but Scott Brooks made a tough call tonight sitting Perk the entire second half. I’m a little worried about it, honestly, about how it’ll go over. But it had to be done. It honestly didn’t work as well as it should’ve as the Rockets came out gunning in the third anyway, but Brooks also flexed again by going to Martin far earlier than usual. Brooks coached an outstanding Game 6. He deserves some big time credit.
- All those shots the Thunder missed in Game 5? They made a lot more of them tonight. OKC hit 11-27 from 3, and knocked down jumpers consistently.
- One of the reasons I’ve always wondered why Brooks hasn’t made the tough choices to sit guys and change lineups is if he doesn’t have the full trust of his team. Or complete and total respect of his decisions. Guys like Doc Rivers own their teams. They decide, and the players fall in step for him. I’ve always questioned if Brooks has that same type of command. But it starts with proving things like he did tonight, that he’s willing to make the painful, tough choices for the better of the team. In the end, they’ll respect you for it.
- James Harden’s series: 26.3 points, 39.1% shooting, 6.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 4.5 turnovers.
- Reggie Jackson in his four starts: 17.3 points, 44.4% shooting, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.3 turnovers. That guy played a spectacular four games, and for whatever reason, it’s been largely ignored. He played fantastically, especially considering his circumstances. Incredible poise, too.
- The Rockets made 14 3-pointers. They made 16 2-pointers.
- Only 10 turnovers for the Thunder.
- Serge Ibaka was really ineffective in the third quarter and I was worried Scott Brooks was going to ride him in the fourth. But he made a great choice of going with Nick Collison as his lone big the entire fourth quarter. Collison was awesome in the first half, but didn’t play a minute in the third. But it was obvious the impact Collison has, especially with OKC’s defense. In 22 minutes, 10 points and nine rebounds.
- Martin scored 21 in the first half, and Nick Collison played 10 minutes. Martin scored zero points in the third quarter, Collison played zero minutes. Martin scored four in the fourth, Collison played 12 minutes. I think those guys need to play together always.
- I feel like I deserve a medal for not complaining about the calls Harden gets all the time.
- Patrick Beverley going for a jump ball as the Rockets are down nine with one second left. Dude. Bro. Come on.
- Here’s how great the game was: I haven’t even gotten to the Perk Scuffle that concluded with him doing pushups at midcourt. What the eff Perk?
- Pretty happy I don’t have to think about Francisco Garcia for at least six more months.
Next up: Game 1 in OKC against Memphis on Sunday.