Heading into the fourth quarter Tuesday against the Kings, the Thunder appeared to be positioning themselves nicely to give the starters a good break ahead of a big game tomorrow against the Trail Blazers. They led 79-65, and picked right up where they left out, extending their run to 18-0, taking total control.
Then Isaiah Thomas outscored them 21-19 in the fourth quarter.
It was one of those games where it didn’t really seem in doubt, until the Kings had the ball down two with 15 seconds left. And with the way Thomas was ballin’ out, a dagger 3 seemed imminent. Russell Westbrook took the assignment, stayed disciplined on a pump fake and contested well to force Thomas to miss short. A good win that got cloudy there in the last four minutes.
The game started horribly for OKC as the Kings jumped out to a 14-2 lead with the Thunder starting 1-12 from the field, which included missing 11 straight shots. And it finished just as miserably. Everything in between was really good, but a bad start and a bad finish nearly cost them.
But despite the near collapse, there were some really good things that happened. Particularly, Scott Brooks trusting both Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to close the game, and even better, both embracing it. Lamb scored seven of his 14 in the fourth, which included a large 3 with 3:17 left to put OKC up six. After Marcus Thornton splashed one on the other end, Jackson came back with his own the next possession with 2:25 left. Back-to-back 3s for Reggie Lamb as the duo combined for 27 points on 10-18 shooting with six rebounds and five assists.
Brooks has leaned heavily on that three guard lineup with Durant and Ibaka to close games this season, but typically has picked between either Lamb or Jackson at one spot with Derek Fisher or Thabo Sefolosha alongside Westbrook at the other. He had Fisher in the game in the lineup, but instead of subbing on Thabo for him to close, Brooks went with Lamb with 5:39 left. I was kind of stunned.
Brooks will probably say it was just a matchup thing and that he trusts all his guys blah blah blah, but it’s clear he’s growing more and more confident in Lamb to handle situations and hit critical shots. Both Fisher and Thabo serve their purposes in some circumstances, but a Westbrook-Jackson-Lamb-Durant-Ibaka lineup could be the best the Thunder can offer.
And really, as the game closed, I wanted Jackson and Lamb to run the show about as much as Durant and Westbrook. KD was fine in this one — 27 points on 8-21 shooting — but Westbrook was borderline awful, struggling with his shot, making poor decisions (seven turnovers) and just kind of zoning out it seemed. The story of this one really is in how OKC’s bench saved it, as in them bringing the Thunder back from their terrible start, and then doing the same with their terrible finish.
Any win is a good one, but the shame of it is the Thunder had a chance to coast in with unfettered victory in preparation for the big one in 24 hours against the Blazers, but the Thomas and the Kings made it a struggle. A checkmark in the win column, but you have to wonder if it could cost them tomorrow.
- Isaiah Thomas is a bad little dude. Those two pull-up 3s in the fourth were pure brass.
- Even though Westbrook seemed to play poorly, he still came up with some huge plays like a couple soaring offensive rebounds and almosthad a triple-double — 15-8-7.
- Perk was fine, I thought, but it’s to ignore the plus/minus tonight (-16) and the fact the second Perk sat down late in the third, OKC closed on a 18-2 run. Maybe it was partly coincidental, but the game did seem to open up a little for OKC.
- Can’t understate how good Lamb, Jackson and the bench was tonight. He got as high as a +29, but Jackson finished +16, Collison a +14, Adams a +10 and Lamb a +7. Westbrook was a -10, Ibaka a -8, Thabo a -7.
- The most anticipated tip-off in Thunder history, and they won it.
- The Kings won the first quarter 31-19 and the fourth quarter 30-19. But lost the second and third 31-16 and 28-18. I found this weird.
- It’s completely understandable why you don’t pressure Perk when he has the ball 20 feet from the basket, but teams might should reconsider. He’s not going to beat you off the dribble, but what he can do if you give him the space is pick out a cutter extremely well. In the third quarter, he set up Westbrook twice on cuts to the rim, and Durant once.
- Ibaka came up with another clutch potentially game-saving play late on the defensive end. With the Kings down 97-93 with 1:07 left, Ibaka blocked a point blank putback attempt to keep it a two possession game.
- There’s always a lot of talk about what a great defensive communicator Perk is, and there was a good example in the third quarter. McLemore was running off a double baseline screen and Perk read it all the way and yelled out, “Coming around Serrrrrrrrrrrge!” Ibaka spun his head, got in position and contested McLemore’s jumper. Perk doesn’t call that out, it’s a clean 15 footer.
- He only got 14 minutes, but Steven Adams played really well. Was in the right spot more often than not, rebounded solidly and continued setting soul-crushing screens.
- After Jackson hit that shot at the end of the 24, he didn’t even crack a smile. He trotted back as if he totally knew what he was doing and was a complete boss.
- The Kings didn’t have DeMarcus Cousins tonight, which obviously hurt them. It meant Patrick Patterson played 33 minutes, and he went 1-9.
- Both Brian Davis and Grant Long mistook Perk for KD in a two minute span. I don’t even.
- Let me restate my opinion of the alternates: As a standalone jersey, they’re pretty good. But for a Thunder jersey, they’re pretty terrible. The simplistic style just doesn’t work for me. The design is fine, but there needs to be some orange/red, yellow and light blue in there somewhere. Add that pop of color and you’ve got some rad uniforms.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “We’ve had the runs here tonight.”
Next up: At Portland on Wednesday