About midway through the fourth quarter and the Thunder kicking on the cruise control as the headed for a solid win over the Pelicans, I had that crappy feeling wash over me: There’s really nothing to say about this game.
It was what you’d expect from the Thunder when they’re playing an average team without its best player. Kevin Durant was splendid (29 points on 11-17 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists), Russell Westbrook was great (27 points on 8-16 shooting, four rebounds and four assists), Serge Ibaka big (17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks) and Reggie Jackson solid off the bench (15 points, four rebounds, four assists).
Really, the most interesting thing about this game was about the ongoing struggles of the starting five. The Pelicans jumped out to an early 22-11 lead on OKC, and it wasn’t until Nick Collison and Reggie Jackson checked in for Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha that things turned. The Thunder went on a 13-4 run, and got back in the game.
The third quarter was better for the starters as they took a 58-52 lead and had it at 70-63 before Scott Brooks made his first second half substitution. That’s only a +1, and a -10 overall.
The bench playing well is great and all, but at a certain point, it becomes about the starting five. Because those five players see more time on the floor together than any other lineup. Even with the starters only getting 15 minutes together tonight, that’s 11 more minutes than any other unit saw tonight. It means that the bulk of the game is being played with non-starter lineups (33 minutes, to be exact), but no other group sees as much time as the starters do. And they’re maybe the Thunder worst lineup right now. We’ve been down this road before, and should know it by now that it’s just something to deal with.
But that’s the beauty of having a strong second unit. When you’ve got a game-changing kind of player like Jackson, it masks a lot of your issues and can dig you out of holes when other teams start pulling their starters. And even better, Jackson is routinely finding himself on the floor for extended minutes, including the fourth quarter, which he played in its entirety tonight. Jackson got 29 minutes, following up games of 29 and 31 minutes. He hasn’t played fewer than 20 since Nov. 8, instead seeing his time on the floor climb. Brooks is trusting him more and seeing what having him on the floor does. Jackson was third in the league coming in to tonight in net rating (OKC is +24.8 points per 100 possessions this season with Jackson on the floor), and tonight he only added to it as a +20.
The end result tonight was the expectation: A quality bounce-back game on the road that leads in to a big showdown against a great team on Sunday. The Thunder defended well and got big games from their best players, while still fighting through some nagging issues. And that’s really all there is to say about it.
- Westbrook and Durant both played well together in a game for the first time in a while. They combined for 56 points 19-33 shooting.
- Steven Adams played only four minutes, and two of them were in garbage time. Not really surprising since the Pelicans play so small all the time, but still, four minutes?
- With Lamb picking up three quick fouls, Scott Brooks dusted off Ryan Gomes for a couple random minutes in the first half. And honestly, that was maybe the most confusing decision by Brooks this season. Why Gomes over Perry Jones? I can’t even think of a single reason to rationalize this other than some bullcrap thing like the team needed “toughness” or whatever. Then in garbage time, again, Gomes over Jones. Huh?
- Brooks’ explanation: “Just wanted to see Ryan.”
- I think stuff like “showcasing for a trade” or “resting a guy because he’s gonna get traded” don’t actually happen, but still, the choice to go with Gomes was weird. The best explanation I saw was from Jon Hamm, who noted the deadline may be coming up for Gomes’ contract to become guaranteed, so possibly Sam Presti was the one that wanted a peek to see if he’s worth keeping around.
- My favorite thing about Westbrook’s deep 3 is that he still had three seconds on the shot clock. But forget that, just launch.
- The Thunder are 3-0 on opening tips since I wrote the thing about them. You’re welcome. And don’t worry, something more in depth about the starting five is coming soon.
- Ibaka picked up his ninth double-double of the season tonight. As Anthony Slater pointed out, it took him until February to do that last year.
- The crowd in New Orleans tonight looked so bad, especially considering the Thunder are one of the best draws in the league, and it’s a Friday night. Yikes.
- Jeremy Lamb is picking up way too many fouls by over-pressuring the ball. He got tagged for three quick ones in the first half and five in 15 minutes. Meant he only scored two points on 1-5 shooting.
- Ibaka’s “no rebound no rebound no rebound no rebound” cracked me up.
- Something about that wrist tape just gave Ibaka a different look. I think he should try out a mid armband or maybe even a sleeve or something. Just to see what it looks like.
- It’s becoming extremely routine for the Thunder to win games by eight or 10, and for Perk to be a double-digit minus. Small sample size plus/minus isn’t a very good indicator often times, but this probably is of something.
- Derek Fisher hit an and-1 3. Which was only his third 3-point make this season.
- OKC’s defensive effort was much, much better in the second half, holding the Pelicans to 43 points on just 31.3 percent shooting.
- Kudos to Ibaka for his big game, but also on sticking with Ryan Anderson so well. Durant defended Anderson very little as the Thunder played with two bigs far more than I expected, and Anderson went just 5-17 and only 1-6 from 3.
- Tweet from @MartzMimic: “It’s amazing how much better defense OKC plays when the two defensive starters leave the floor.”
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “I don’t know how to say slam dunk in French but I wish I did!”
Next up: Home against the Pacers on Sunday