If you wanted to use “ugly” or “gross” or “bad-good-win” to describe this one, I wouldn’t really argue too much with you. But I’m going with “acceptable.”
Following up the high of absolutely smoking the Pacers on Sunday, the Thunder had to put their road shoes on and take on a decent Hawks team. Potentially dangerous-ish type of game, especially if the Thunder didn’t bring their best stuff. Which they most definitely didn’t. Russell Westbrook shot the ball like the point of basketball was to not make the ball go in, the Thunder were sloppy with the ball and they seemed to zone out at different times of the game.
But what was good mostly throughout, and mostly the reason they won, was the defensive side of things. After the Hawks cut a 15-point second half Thunder lead to three with 10:15 left, Scott Brooks called timeout. And the Hawks then didn’t score for almost four minutes as OKC went on a methodical 10-0 to push it back to 13.
The Hawks wouldn’t die, though, as they found their 3-point stroke, getting the lead back down to three with 2:05 left, but the Thunder had their closers closing as Westbrook and Kevin Durant made the necessary plays to eventually put them away.
It’s an incredible trust that we’ve built in these guys, particularly No. 35 and No. 0, where even when a team is trying to force its way back, you might squirm a bit, but you never completely feel like things are in jeopardy. Because you know that more than likely, Westbrook and Durant totally got this. Sometimes, they slip up and let one get away. But more times than not, they hit the shots, get the stops and make the plays.
For example tonight, Westbrook, who was struggling through an absolutely miserable shooting performance (6-21), sets up Durant and Serge Ibaka for some good looks, cans a 3 with 4:24 left, then finishes a wild lefty reverse with 1:40 left to put OKC back up five.
Which is one of Westbrook’s very best qualities: He pouts and throws tantrums when he’s playing poorly, but instead of it meaning he checks out mentally and loses focus, it just makes him play harder. Sometimes it’s misguided and gets him too reckless, but it just ramps up his energy on the defensive end, on the glass and in attacking the defense. There’s never a moment where he thinks, “Nah, I better not.” If there’s a play to be made, he’s willing to try and make it.
I know some probably see that as a massive flaw and negative in his game, but I don’t. He’s never thinking about his shooting percentage or turnover number. Westbrook just keeps coming, and keeps coming, and keeps coming. The big 3 he hit late in the fourth had no hesitation in it, then he attacks the rim on the baseline and finishes that challenging reverse lefty layup. Westbrook is always ready to make the big play, take on the pressure and live with the responsibility of failing. When you have the talent he does, that’s an incredibly positive quality to possess. Again, sometimes it backfires and that’s when Bad Russell looks like Stupid Russell, but he’s not going to back down just because the previous 44 minutes haven’t gone his way.
Those are the plays that guys like Durant and Westbrook routinely make when it counts that teams like the Hawks, and Kings, and Nuggets, and Suns and so many other average to below average squads are so desperately trying to find. Just one guy they can routinely rely on in big spots to come up with a critical shot or a important play. And the Thunder have to of ’em. It’s like Lloyd’s hands getting sweaty while Harry’s freeze on a cold Colorado night. The Thunder: Living the life excess in crunchtime.
A good win for OKC, and one that you put in the now-that-that’s-over-with-moving-on category. There are games on the schedule that are only notable if the Thunder lose. This was one of those, and they did not. Moving on.
- S0, Scott Brooks subbed Perk in with 3:42 left and the Thunder holding on to a seven-point lead. And you know what, Perk did some really positive things again. Had three possessions of rotating over in the lane to bail out a teammate and blow up an otherwise easy two, knocked down two free throws, and didn’t let Al Horford score.
- With Thabo Sefolosha out, Brooks went with recently recalled Andre Roberson as his starting 2-guard. Love the move because it just keeps everything simple and consistent. No adjustment needed. Just roll it out and play on as normal. And Roberson was really solid, I thought. He only got 12 minutes — about six to start the first and third quarters — but had five rebounds, made the one shot he took (a putback) and played hellacious defense on Kyle Korver, not letting him have any kind of look.
- Westbrook missed so many good looks. So many. The most painful was an explosion to the rim that he tried to dunk, catching the back of the iron. After that one, he dropped to 1-10 on the right. Next possession, he was flying at the rim again and drew a foul for two free throws. That’s Russ.
- This GIF kind of sums up the kind of night, particularly first half, Westbrook had.
- Westbrook tried out the one-legged Dirk/Durant fadeaway tonight, and drilled it.
- Reggie Jackson with 13 points on 5-10 shooting in 30 minutes, with three assists and four rebounds. And he knocked in a couple of critical wild shots late in the third to hold the Hawks off a bit. They looked lucky, but it seems like Jackson has a bit of a knack for those.
- Jackson’s midrange/pull-up game is really coming along. It was the biggest thing he clearly needed to improve offensively in the offseason and he’s obviously put in the work. Really impressive. Next up: a post game.
- KD’s now had consecutive games of 30-10-5. He good.
- KD putting Millsap on skates. (He missed the shot, though. If he’d made it, I would’ve made it a video, GIF’d it, made a graphic novel about it, wrote a screenplay about it starring Jamie Foxx as KD, and then invented a time machine so I could go back in time, travel to Atlanta and see it live and in person. But he missed it.)
- Westbrook is reverting sometimes to Rookie Russell where he was far too much in love with 3-pointers off the dribble and over-attacked the rim, getting too deep after elevating with no bailout option other than a wild layup. He took six 3s tonight. That’s too many.
- Returning close to home, Jeremy Lamb was excellent in 21 minutes hitting 5-of-9 shots for 11 points.
- When he catches near the 3-point line, Lamb’s got this bad little habit of glancing down at his feet right before he shoots. He’s probably done it his whole life and it may not impact his shot in any way, but still, it’s a bad shooting habit to have. Then again, better to have him sneak a peek at his feet than be Captain Toe-On-The-Line, Derek Fisher.
- Neato stat from @ThunderStats: “Derek Fisher has missed 15 out of his last 20 field goal attempts. Perry Jones has made 15 out of his last 20 field goal attempts.”
- Another double-double for Serge Ibaka — 19 points (7-14) and 10 rebounds. The Thunder got him in pick-and-pop situations with Westbrook and Jackson and the Hawks had no idea how to handle it.
- Steven Adams doesn’t get a ton of offensive rebounds — he gets a fair share, though — but he creates a lot of extra possessions and opportunities just by his activity. Twice tonight he created an extra possession for OKC battling on the glass and forcing the ball off a Hawk.
- I don’t really know how to describe this or if it’ll make sense, but Ibaka doesn’t seem to have much offensive instinct. He’s so mechanical. For example, midway through the second quarter, Ibaka found the ball in his hands with like three on the shot clock. Instead of just grabbing it and taking an instinctual shot without really thinking, he had to catch, pivot and go through the process of doing one of his moves. Like he’s programmed himself in a way that he has certain functions offensively — open pick-and-pop, jab-step jumper, post move thingy. There’s just not a lot of playing with pure feel and instinct. Defensively, it’s a whole other story. He might play with too much instinct.
- Westbrook abuses a lot of opposing guards in the post because of his size and strength, but Jeff Teague took a new, clever approach to it. Instead of trying to muscle back and push, Teague gave Westbrook the space and basically no contact. Then when Westbrook went for his move, Teague then jumped it and contested. Caught Westbrook off guard.
- After Brian Davis proclaimed a Durant banker was a “back-breaker!” with 2:50 left in the third to make it 72-57, the Hawks went on a 11-4 run to finish the quarter, cutting it to eight. Then they got it to three early in the third. Thinking mayyyyyyyybe that was a little premature there, BD.
- I don’t know what happened here at the end of the game, but a courtside fan appeared to say something that caught Westbrook’s attention, which brought over Durant, Ibaka and Perk. The conversation seemed to be fairly cordial, until Perk and Ibaka started ushering Westbrook away and ref Ed Malloy started calling for security. Weird.
Next up: At Memphis on Wednesday