I mean. I mean, I mean…
Aren’t sports just stupid? With what happened a few weeks ago in Oakland where Andre Iguodala one-upped a ridiculous apparent Russell Westbrook game-winner and sent sads all over Oklahoma, to what happened Friday night at The Peake. I mean.
I’ll do my best to describe what happened, but I’m still sitting here huffing into a paper bag. After an already absurd game, the Thunder were down 112-110 with 9.4 seconds left. Scott Brooks drew up a slick play that anticipated a double on Kevin Durant, to which he hit Serge Ibaka with an on-time pocket pass and had a clean look to tie from 15 feet. The ball caught back iron, and as he tends to do, Westbrook screamed in from the 3-point line and launched himself at the rim, keeping the ball alive. Thabo Sefolosha then made a stupidly good no-look save, which found Westbrook who was positioning himself behind the 3-point line.
Hello 3-holsters. Hello win column.
“Yeah I’m not going for to tie the game. There’s no need to tie the game,” said Westbrook. “I did the same thing at Golden State but unfortunately it didn’t work out for us. So like I said, I’m thankful it went in and less time on the clock.”
Yeah, leaving 0.1 on the clock was a better plan than leaving 2.7. Plus, the Warriors were minus Iguodala, so even though it didn’t ring the buzzer, Westbrook’s winner slammed the door on just another ridiculous Thunder home win.
“Some would say it was payback from last game,” said Stephen Curry. Or justice. Either or.
Much like the previous game against the Warriors where it was Iguodala leaving Thunder fans depressed, this game was a whole lot more than a final sequence, but it’s almost hard to even remember what happened to get us to that point. I remember Kevin Durant doing something at one point, and Serge Ibaka blocked a shot somewhere in there, and Stephen Curry did some stuff, and Harrison Barnes scored some points. But like Westbrook on a fast break, most of it was a blur.
“You can wake up tomorrow morning and realize that we’re even now. Both teams deserved to win both games,” Brooks said. “I was just thinking there were so many good moments I can’t wait to watch it tonight. I love the game, I love our guys and I love the effort and these are the reasons that we’re all in this. For moments that last forever and this is one of those games and one of those shots that I’m sure Russell doesn’t even need to exaggerate like I’ve done with my family and my kids.”
There are a couple of things to hit on though from this game outside of Westbrook’s shot:
1) Despite some iffy offense late — more on that later — I thought Scott Brooks managed a fantastic game. His best move of the night was sitting Durant with 3:59 left in the third as KD sat on 10 points on 3-9 shooting. Brooks’ intention was obvious: He wanted to rest Durant to play him the entire fourth quarter, and also leave a window open for Westbrook do pull one of his trademark sparks. Which he did, scoring seven points in the final four minutes, while mixing in some steals and turning a game on the verge of getting away from OKC into something tight headed to the fourth quarter.
“That was exactly my mindset,” Brooks said. “At that time, I felt Kevin needed a rest. I knew we had three timeouts in that fourth quarter, the nine six and three, plus down the stretch. So he was going to be play those last 12 minutes. And just had a feeling Russell was going to continue to play with a lot of force and determination and we needed that. We really needed his extra minutes.”
The result was basically perfect. Durant started the fourth with Westbrook on the bench, and OKC went on a 7-0 run in the opening two minutes to take a one-point lead, with KD scoring five of those and finally getting himself into the game.
2) Serge Ibaka is changing games. He’s becoming as equally destructive in crunchtime as Westbrook or Durant, but doing it on the offensive glass and on the defensive interior. He had four blocks tonight, and three of them completely wiped away easy Warrior points (most notably being a David Lee dunk attempt with 2:28 left and Golden State up two). I would prefer Ibaka to remain a little more involved in the offense late, but he’s inserting himself regardless of that just by being extremely active on both ends. He’s playing center wonderfully and handling his business on the defensive boards. Ibaka is a game-changer right now.
“He’s very comfortable and he’s starting to pick up the game,” Brooks said. “Every year he’s improved not only in basketball and his body, but in basketball knowledge. We talk about his defense, and we should, but he can score. The guy has really developed and offensive package and we have plays and sets that we run through him and he’s figuring out as this season has gone along. It’s not about scoring with your back to the basket like everybody thinks. That’s not a high percentage shot, not just for him but for the league. The best in the league are probably in the low 40s (percent) but Serge is one of the best midrange shooters and that’s where he’s realizing he needs to shoot those jumpers.”
3) I didn’t like the Thunder’s late-game offense, but it’s a little hard to blame Brooks and the Thunder for the thinking. Without Iguodala, the Thunder looked to exploit the Warriors with KD in the mid-post, after running a little misdirection. Some were shots Durant often makes, but a lot of them were contested and falling away. Stagnating the offense like that and isolating Durant isn’t a bad thing, because he’s Kevin Freaking Durant and just giving him the ball works a lot of the time. But I’d prefer mixing that in with some off-ball motion and cutting. Settling entirely into an Iso KD Mode in crunchtime is dangerous, because you’re essentially putting all the weight on Durant to ice the game.
Whatever though, I already forgot about what I even just said. Did you see Russ make that shot? Like he caught it, and shot it and it went in.
- Brooks made a big move playing Jeremy Lamb through crunchtime in the fourth and all of overtime, picking him over Reggie Jackson. The reason was obvious. In OKC’s smallball lineup, the Warriors were exploiting a mismatch in the mid-post with Jackson on Harrison Barnes. So Brooks brought in Thabo for Jackson, put him on Barnes and had Lamb chase Klay Thompson who he could get a decent contest on because of his length. Lamb has a big opportunity to pay things off too with an open look from 3 in overtime, but missed wide. Still, having him on the floor there was a great move both for now, and for later.
- Brooks on Lamb: “I thought his length could affect shots. He got beat one time on a drive by Barnes, but I thought he did a great job contesting Curry’s shot on the 3. That was a big miss.”
- Zach Lowe: “It took Jeremy Lamb about 10 full seconds to understand what play OKC was running there, which is why it’s important to give him minutes now.”
- KD on Westbrook’s winner: “That was fun. I was so excited for him. It’s been a long time coming.”
- KD on the Warriors: “You can tell this is starting to build up into something really cool between us two, so we’ll see how it goes.”
- Brooks on using Westbrook more in final shot situations: “Russell has the ability to make shots. I look at it as, Kevin and Russell have the ability to attract two guys on the ball. And we have that opportunity. I thought KD did a good job tonight, but who knows, maybe next game it’ll be Russell. There’s no question that Russell has the ability to make shots, but he also has the ability to make the right plays.”
- Westbrook on taking critical shots: “Kevin’s obviously our first option and when those shots aren’t falling, I try and find myself and be assertive.”
- With Ibaka’s defense, I’m starting to wonder if his shot-blocking became so overrated that now it’s criminally underrated. The Thunder absolutely do not win this game without his four blocks. They aren’t just empty stats in the box score. They were game-changing plays.
- At one point, Westbrook had taken 19 shots to Durant’s nine late into the third quarter, but things finished fairly even with Westbrook taking 25 to KD’s 22. For anyone that still thinks that’s remotely a thing.
- Thabo deserves a lot of credit for the way he defended on Barnes and Curry in the fourth and overtime. He was all over them, staying as close as possible and contesting everything.
- Brooks on the final play in OT: “I thought Kevin made a great play. We talked about it. Two on the ball, get off the basketball. Kevin did that. Serge had a great shot.”
- Huge play: Westbrook’s defense on Barnes with 35 seconds left. The Warriors isolated Barnes in the mid-post on Westbrook, but Russ bodied him and forced a tough fadeaway in the lane that came up short.
- Westbrook started tonight 5-5. Which means he finished it 5-20.
- Westbrook had hit just one of his previous 15 3s before he drilled that winner.
- Klay Thompson started the game 1-12, but I swear, his shots looked so good I would’ve thought he was 10-12. He finished 5-19.
- The Warriors missed nine free throws, with good free throw shooters missing big ones. That’s somewhere the Thunder have been pretty fortunate with this season.
- Important: Just 12 turnovers for OKC.
- Underrated aspect of this one: KD’s closeouts were spectacular. You could see how attentive he was to the Warriors on the perimeter and did a tremendous job getting out to shooters and not over-running them.
- Kendrick Perkins dislocated his left ring finger in the first half (same one as in the preseason) and didn’t play any in the second half. Steven Adams started the second half and played 14 minutes, scoring five points with seven rebounds. I thought Perk was off to a terrific start too, playing really nice defense in the pick-and-roll.
- Adams got into it a bit with Jermaine O’Neal and by getting into it, I mean O’Neal got mad at Adams as The Funaki just stood there ignoring him. Eventually O’Neal got a technical, and Adams let out a grin. I think veteran players are getting mad at Adams because they’re thinking, “who is this guy pushing me around?” Like they don’t expect some no-name rookie to come in and play them this physically.
- Bogut fouling out early in overtime was pretty key. He’s such a tremendous paint protector himself.
- Harrison Barnes is goooooooooood.
- Jeremy Lamb 3s are the equivalent of a basketball sigh. Effortless is too strong of a word for them. It’s like a full body yawn.
- Ref Eric Dalen (who is like 6-9) picked up a little kid who was shooting around during a timeout and helped him dunk. D’aww.
- Anyone else surprised that Brooks didn’t go with Derek Fisher to hound either Curry or Thompson for the fourth quarter?
Next up: Home against the Wolves on Sunday