With each missed 3 late in the fourth quarter, each rattling in and out a little more than the one before, Kevin Durant’s body language became more and more exasperated. From just a little head shake, to an arm flail, to a why-God-why full on breakdown, KD had big chances to stick a dagger in the Nuggets, but couldn’t keep it down.
Fourth time’s the charm, though and with it KD’s body language went from zero to one hundred as he broke out some kind of shimmy shake. Oh, and it put the Thunder up 108-105 with 1:25 left.
That segued into Russell Westbrook’s own dagger, a disgusting fifth-gear crossover on J.J. Hickson that left his tibias, fibulas and femurs splayed across the court.
That was supposed to be the finishing touches on yet another impressive Thunder comeback, except only then did things start to get weird. Ty Lawson dropped a quick jumper, Reggie Jackson put in what appeared to be two clutch free throws, but Lawson came back with another instant bucket. Westbrook split a pair of free throws, giving the Nuggets life, but Derek Fisher wisely took a foul at midcourt with 3.9 seconds left and the Thunder up three. Lawson made his first, then accidentally banked in his second, which led to Fisher dropping two apparent clutch free throws to seal it yet again.
But nope. An interesting foul called on Westbrook as Lawson launched like he was fired out of a cannon gave the Nuggets yet another chance to save this as he made his first free throw and accomplished missing his second this time around. The ball batted around and after a six and a half hour review, was awarded to the Nuggets, with 2.7 seconds remaining. Which if you recall, is a full 0.4 more than the Warriors needed to crush the Thunder’s souls. So yeah, pretty much every Thunder fan was feeling a here-we-go-again moment as visions of Nate Robinson canning a fadeaway 40-footer jumped into their minds.
Except Brian Shaw called a super strange lob play to Timofey Mozgov that was knocked out, which Hickson recovered and heaved at the backboard, which I totally expected to go in. But it didn’t, and the Thunder won this incredibly stupid game, 115-113.
This recap was supposed to be all about KD’s shimmy and Westbrook’s crossover, but that dumb ending messed it all up. So let’s pretend things went as they should’ve. Here’s KD on the shimmy-shake:
“Well, finally I made a shot,” he said. “I had three wide open 3s that rimmed in and out for me and I just wanted to hit a big shot for my team, and I guess that’s the only thing that came to mind.”
It was obvious the Thunder were making an effort to get Durant the ball, running the Horns set over and over with Westbrook and Ibaka decoying a pick-and-roll as Durant curled up to the top of the key. That feeling was there — if KD will just drain a 3, it’ll finish the Nuggets.
“Got to, man,” Westbrook said of feeding the ball to Durant. “He’s gonna miss a few, but he’s going to make some that count too. So we’re going to continue to give him the ball when the time is needed.”
It was one of those Westbrook and Durant games where they put up massive lines — 30-12-7 for Westbrook and 38-8-6 for Durant — but really, some of the most critical plays were made by Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher. Ibaka, who had struggled mightily for about 80 percent of the game, checked in with four points and two rebounds with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter as Brooks went to his three point guard lineup plus KD and Ibaka. Ibaka made his mission very simple down the stretch: Keep possessions alive. He was credited with five offensive boards, but it felt more like 50, especially in those closing minutes. The KD shimmy 3? Possible because of two Ibaka offensive boards, the second which led to an assist on Durant’s make. Next possession, he hauled in another one which led to 17 seconds running off the clock and tipped out what would’ve been another one, but a late whistle for a loose ball foul waved it off.
Then there was Fisher. I’ll be honest: Brooks started the fourth with Jackson, Fisher, Lamb, Durant and Collison, and I was wondering why Fisher was in the game and not Perry Jones, who seemed to be a better fit against the Nuggets’ unit on the floor. Then Brooks subbed and left Fisher on the floor, instead taking Lamb off for Westbrook. I went from wondering to KD-why-God-why exasperation.
Except it completely paid off. The Thunder’s big run, erasing a 12-point fourth quarter deficit, happened with Fisher on the floor. In fact, Fisher’s defense and energy was actually a catalyst for it, as he bodied and defended Nate Robinson, Ty Lawson and Andre Miller all over the floor. Fisher blew up passing lanes, hustled through pick-and-rolls and just basically played his high-butt off for all 12 minutes of the fourth. The Thunder don’t win this game without him tonight.
“It’s my job to figure out our best lineups. And I think we did that tonight,” Brooks said. “At the end of the game that was willing to compete every possession.”
Said KD: “Last game, he played inspiring basketball. He inspired our whole team to come out [play hard], and last game he didn’t score, but made a huge impact on the defensive end, and making the right play on offense. And tonight, he came out and did the same. All you can do is tip your hat to a guy like that.”
Whatever it was, whether it was the matchups, the energy from Fisher or just playing better basketball in general, the Thunder flipped a switch again in the fourth quarter to rescue themselves from an otherwise bad loss. It’s a habit they need to quickly break, but at the same time, having the ability to bail yourself out is a good characteristic to have. Even if it’s horrible and frustrating and stupid.
- After Westbrook’s phantom foul on Lawson, Scott Brooks showed more of a freakout than I’ve ever seen from him, turning and slamming both hands HARD on the scoretable, Westbrook-after-Beverley style. Said Brooks of the slam, “I don’t recall that.”
- More Brooks on the call: “It was a tough call. The league will look at that play, but one thing I will never do, and I understand that everybody has a job. Mine is to coach, players is to play, officials to officiate the game. And they do a great job, just like our players do, competing every possession. So, frustrating. But it had no bearing. We won the game and moved on.”
- Found this weird: With the Thunder in position to ice the game at the line, the ball was inbounced to Reggie Jackson, who had Durant wide, wide open right next to him. But instead of giving it to him, Jackson entirely ignored him, making an obvious decision to shoot the free throws himself. It was so blatant that it was awkward. Especially after because KD was standing there with both hands out going “what are you doing?” while Jackson didn’t look or talk to anyone as he strolled to the line. He was saying “I got this,” which is cool, but telling Kevin Durant you got this is kind of weird. Kudos to Jackson though because he drained both free throws confidently. You’ve got to give him that — the guy is super clutch at the line late in games. And it’s probably because of that swagger.
- Westbrook on KD’s shimmy: “I love it man. I’m full of animation. I’m glad he finally added some animation to his game too, so it’s good.”
- The Thunder’s defense was not good tonight, except for the last nine minutes of the game. They gave up 39 points in the first quarter and 63 at the half. It was like they’d never defended a pick-and-roll before.
- In a game like this, I expect to look at the box score and see 47 turnovers for the Thunder. But they only had 12, which was a huge part of them winning this. They got good shots and more importantly, got shots.
- Is it just me, or does the guy trying to miss the second free throw down two with seconds to go ALWAYS make it?
- Between the No. 94 and the overall general appearance, Evan Fournier does not really look like a guy in the NBA. I liked what someone tweeted me tonight: He kind of look like the bearded lady at the carnival. And yes, that’s super mean.
- Westbrook picked up a tech for kind of grabbing Mozgov after a whistle, and while arguing about it said, “Now I’ve got one so I can’t say nothing anymore.” Two possessions later, out of frustration of not being able to finish an and-1, Westbrook slammed the ball hard into the floor. Had it bounced through his hands, he would’ve been gone.
- Durant on having a switch: “We don’t have no choice. When you’re down 13 points in the fourth, you don’t have no choice whether to give in or flip a switch and try and fight this thing out. And that’s what we did. We were down early a few games ago and we were doing it now, so like I said we’ve got to start games off better and give ourselves a chance to have a little cushion in the fourth quarter.”
- Westbrook on a switch: “I don’t know man, I wouldn’t say that. But I know that we don’t want to lose. At the same time, especially at home in front of our fans. So maybe at home we may have some type of button we press, but I don’t know.”
- Westbrook to responsibility for the slow start. “Most of that is my fault. We’ve got to start games better.”
- Steven Adams only played six minutes and didn’t see any time in the second half. Nothing to see here, just a bad matchup thing as the Nuggets played small with only one big, and sometimes a power forward at center, for most of the game.
- While waiting for the new 538 to launch, Nate Silver apparently is interning as an NBA referee. (Marat Kogut looks just like him.)
- I like how Jeremy Lamb says something to himself after every 3 he hits. He had eight quick points in the first half and hit two 3s, but didn’t do much after.
- The Thunder played a long pregame video tonight basically highlighting a ton of community service. Which is awesome. But it was the Thunderiest video of all the Thundery videos there have ever been.
- Perk, a team-worst -11 tonight. Thabo was second at -10. Fisher was best at +13.
- The Thunder hit 13-27 from 3 tonight. If you told me that was going to happen, I would’ve thought OKC won by 20.
- Before the game there were two guys sitting courtside wearing Rockets jerseys. KD came over and asked them, “Do ya’ll know where you’re at?” The story is, one of their dads bought the tickets but is from Houston and told them if they were going to go, they had to wear that.
- However, the jerseys didn’t last long as Clay Bennett apparently came over and told them to take them off, saying “lose them.” The irony here is excruciating since, you know, that Rockets Harden jersey wouldn’t even exist if Bennett would’ve just… oh forget it.
- Another Thunder fan — the seventh in five years — drilled a halfcourt shot for $20,000. The guy joins an impressive list of halfcourt shot-makers, but to me, he’s No. 1 all-time. He officially made six free throws in the contest, but it was more like eight (he was making them so fast the card turners couldn’t keep up), and then he completely flushed his halfcourter. GOAT.
Next up: Home against the Clippers on Thursday