Focus for all 48!
That was the message on the Thunder’s pregame whiteboard in the locker room. The first 47? Pretty good job. The last 60 seconds? Pretty bad job.
With 3:09 left, OKC led by 12. With 1:09 left, it was nine. With 44 seconds left, it was seven. But after an Arron Afflalo 3 cut it to four with 31.9 seconds left, things started to get a little squirmy.
A Russell Westbrook turnover led to a Moe Harkless dunk and just like that, 23 seconds left and the Thunder are only up two. Kevin Durant then split a pair of free throws, opening the door for the Magic to force an extra five minutes.
“I think focus was definitely lost, but that’s something we have to continue to remind ourselves,” Scott Brooks said. “There’s 48 minutes of basketball. You have to play every possession. In the NBA, you have to take a shot every 24 seconds. The lead can go down fast if you don’t get good shots and we didn’t do a good job of executing. We turned it over, didn’t get good shots, didn’t defend and didn’t get back on defense. And they were playing aggressive. Momentum shifted right then and they weren’t giving up.”
The Thunder cranked up for one more defensive possession, forcing Glen Davis to attempt a fadeaway contested 3 that airballed short. Nikola Vucevic was on the spot for a putback, which Serge Ibaka swatted. Initial call on the floor was a goaltend with 1.3 seconds left and the Magic now down one, but after a review, the points were wiped out and it was a jumpball at midcourt.
Ibaka won the tap, but inexplicably tapped it towards his own goal. Tobias Harris gathered, but the buzzer rang before he was able to get his shot off, and he missed long anyway. Still, that one went from cruise control to in doubt in zero to sixty.
Coming in to the game, I thought the toughest opponent the Thunder were going to play was going to be boredom. With the way they’ve coasted at home and the way they’re playing lately, it would be easy to overlook a team like the Magic. Keep your head in the game and things would be relatively easy.
And they did, except for the last bit of it. Which almost cost them.
“We’re happy with the win, don’t get me wrong, we’re happy with the win,” Brooks said. “But we always strive to be more complete.”
That’s really the inner battle with this team. Brooks did not seem happy postgame and talked a lot about the negatives of the game. When you’re in December and trying to be at a certain level for April, you’re often playing against yourselves. You have to be picky, you have to single out the small stuff.
The season’s installment is far from a finished product and despite the excellent start, there’s a long way to go. There’s seeding to play for, homecourt advantage, and just a general standard of performance they’re striving for. It’s easy to just sit back and feel good about yourself right now when you’re 19-4, but remember, last season’s team started 21-4. I think this team is deeper, and probably better, but that doesn’t guarantee anything.
Just like a nine-point lead with a minute left doesn’t in the NBA.
- Probably the worst game of Serge Ibaka’s season. But a lot of it was hampered by foul trouble. He only got 21 minutes and never found a rhythm, going for four points on 2-6 shooting with two rebounds and two blocks.
- First Magic possession, Westbrook had a steal and a dunk. I thought the rout was on at 2-0. But that Magic team is scrappy and hung in there.
- A thought on Ibaka’s goaltend-that-was-not: That actually worked in favor of the Magic. Had the two points just counted, OKC would’ve had the ball up one with 1.3 left. The Magic were out of timeouts, so the Thunder could basically just end the game there. Instead, the jumpball gave them a prayer.
- There was a moment in the second quarter where KD was 1-5 for only three points and I started the process of figuring out if this was his worst first half ever. Then he finished the first half with 14 points on 5-9 shooting, leading OKC in scoring headed to the break. That guy, he’s pretty okay at this.
- Durant made nine straight shots at one point and finished with 28 on 11-18. Over his last two games, he’s scored 59 on 21-31 shooting.
- KD on turning around his slow start: “Early on I was just pouting and pissed off at myself and I can’t do that. I just had to change my whole mindset and focus on the team and how I can help the team get better on defense and offense will come around because coach gives me the opportunity to shoot whenever I please. So I just had to change my mindset and think defense first and bring some energy there and hope it helped on the offensive end.”
- Pregame, an Orlando reporter asked Westbrook about Victor Oladipo and his transition from college shooting guard to NBA point guard, and what it was like Russ to do. And Westbrook immediately cut him off to tell him he’s always been a point guard. I’m not sure anything bristles Russ faster than someone asking him about not being a point guard. He was polite about it, but he’s always very quick to correct.
- Not all OKC halfcourt participants have it, I guess. Guy just barely got his shot to the 3-point line. Or, I suppose, MidFirst is wising up and “selecting” a little better.
- Westbrook tried to pull down an unnecessarily fancy rebound in the fourth quarter, and basically just threw the ball out of bounds. It looked so funny that I truly thought Westbrook was about to go for a putback on the wrong end.
- Andrew Nicholson looks like he’s 52 years old and has three grandchildren.
- Westbrook was again all over a triple-double but came up short. He had 22 (on 7-22), with 12 rebounds and six assists.
- Thabo returned tonight and played 23 minutes. Four steals for him.
- Jeremy Lamb was quietly terrific with 16 on 7-10 shooting, plus three rebounds and three assists. He’s shown a whole lot of flashes, but tonight, I feel like I got a twinge of “this dude could be an NBA stud.” He’s still got to keep developing and growing, but by the time he’s a free agent in a few years, I can definitely see a team paying him well.
- Lamb: “It means a lot that my teammates trust me. We talk a lot about trust. They trust me to take the shot if I have it or to make a pass if I don’t, so that’s huge right there.”
- At halftime, a guy pulled his girlfriend to the middle of the court and proposed. It wasn’t like a planned thing or anything, so security immediately ran out to stop them. After ushering them to the sideline, he re-initiated his proposal, and she said yes. Then security walked them out of the tunnel. Don’t know what happened after that.
- I thought the guy proposing would be the weirdest thing I saw tonight, and then Perk went and dunked on Big Baby for an and-1.
- Perk on his dunk: “I missed so many layups I was like, I’m just gonna go up. It’s kind of hard right now playing with that taped up finger because I’m used to going up with two hands, but I guess I’ll just go up with one now. I only got a 12-inch vertical though.”
- Reggie Jackson was quality again with 10 points, five assists and four rebounds. Now nine straight games in double-figures.
- On Jackson’s floater, he sort of leans back when he’s shooting it. It’s a fadeaway runner. It defies science.
- Jeremy Lamb, J-Lamb, or maybe even Jamb? Then we could say, “You just got Jambed.” Sleep on it you guys and get back to me tomorrow.
- Back-to-back plays in the first quarter: Thabo doinked an alley-oop, then Perk was blocked and then missed a point blank layup.
- Not that the crowd was bad tonight, but here’s a thought: The team might be searching for motivation within the season, and the fans could be too. When the Thunder are playing a team like the Magic, everyone heading to the game expects a win, and quite possibly a blowout. I almost feel like tonight was a decent reminder that you don’t get to things for granted.
- On the Cologne Beat, tonight Derek Fisher was at his locker, so he actually walked over and offered KD some of his. No thieving going on. Perk also came over and bummed a little hit of it. I don’t know what is up with it, but ladies must dig the old man smell. I asked KD after the game what the deal was and he said he just doesn’t have any and needs to get some. Until next time.
Next up: Tuesday at the Nuggets