Add the back-to-back disclaimer on this one if you want, but the facts are this: The Thunder just waxed the league’s (current) best team with the league’s best defense by 24 while piling up 118 points on 61 percent shooting.
I don’t care if the Pacers played a back-to-back this afternoon against the Heat and Spurs and ran suicides in between games, this was downright impressive from the Thunder.
“When we play like that,” Russell Westbrook said, “there aren’t too many teams that can beat us but ourselves.”
If you’re looking for a standard of performance to call back on, this is probably the game. Again, yes, the Pacers played last night and have been on a long road trip, something Scott Brooks made sure to acknowledge postgame — “that’s their fifth game on a five-game Western trip and they played last night, a very physical game” — but there was a certain look and feel to this one that was obvious.
With so much talk about Paul George’s (warranted) rise to superstardom, Kevin Durant started the game 6-7 on him and dropped 36 on 14-23 shooting with 10 rebounds and five assists. With so much talk about Russell Westbrook trying to find his form, he went for 26 on 11-17 shooting with 13 assists and seven rebounds. And with so much talk about the Thunder’s starting five struggling, they established the tone early and put up +17, +19, +19, +24 and +26.
“Our theme right now is, ‘how can you help your teammate?’” Kendrick Perkins said. “So whatever that means whether a guy cutting hard, or setting a screen or doing whatever he needs to do, passing the ball on time, making a shot, however you can help a teammate. I think if we keep living by that and being honest with ourselves and just keep holding each other accountable, we can keep moving forward in a positive way.
“The one thing I noticed tonight is that we actually came out tonight with the intention to play stat-free basketball,” Perk said. “And guys still ended up with pretty decent numbers. When you do things the right way, things pretty much fall into place. When you try too hard, that’s when things don’t look too right, things don’t go well for the team. But when you do what you’re supposed to do, things fall in place they way they’re supposed to fall in place.”
So much of what made the Thunder’s starting five so effective last season was the ability for Westbrook and Durant to start fast, and carry an otherwise defensive-minded lineup. Durant attacked early, then Westbrook took over and played his most complete game since coming back from injury. He’s shown a lot of signs of being close, and while he wouldn’t say he’s back-back — “Almost, sometimes,” he said — his overall performance was certainly a positive thing for the Thunder. Because when he’s good, the Thunder are very, very good.
“Best game of the season. I thought this was his best performance of the season,” Perk said of Westbrook’s game. “I ain’t just talking about his scoring or being close to a triple-double. I’m talking he was all over the place, digging, getting back to his man, running people off the 3, jumping in passing lanes. The little things he did tonight were through the roof. And I feel like if he plays at that level, we’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
I see a connection there between Westbrook saying when they play like that, the only team that’s beating them is themselves, and Westbrook playing a complete offensive and defensive game. The standard of performance thing probably goes a lot deeper than that, but I’ve said it often that Westbrook is the head of the Thunder snake and when you either take him away, or at least limit him, things get more difficult for everyone else.
Again, I’ve said it before, the Thunder don’t need to make statements. They’re past it, or at least should be. We know they’re good. How good, as in good enough, is the big question. And when they play like that, despite whatever clause or abnegation you want to put on it, there really aren’t many teams out there that can get on that level. Especially in Oklahoma City.
- OK, so are the Thunder going to get appropriate credit for this win? Does it matter? With everyone paying attention to the Rudy Gay deal and Kobe’s return, the Thunder’s beatdown seemingly went overlooked. I almost wonder if a close win would’ve looked better for OKC’s sake than a blowout, because now everyone is invoking the “oh well they were on a back-to-back” excuse.
- Another thought on that: If you’re downplaying this win because of the Pacers’ situation, remember that the next time you get agitated about an OKC loss on the second night of a back-to-back. I don’t remember too many giving the Thunder that kind of grace after losing the Blazers or Warriors. It’s understandable to hold the Thunder to that kind of standard, because they do themselves, but the Pacers are good regardless of when the last game they played was.
- David West on the back-to-back: “We don’t make excuses. We’ve struggled against them the last couple years now, and we just haven’t found a way to make it difficult for them.”
- Perk on the Pacers being on a back-to-back: “Man, it’s the NBA. We’ve been caught on back-to-backs too. At the end of the day, they blew San Antonio out, so it ain’t like they had to play a whole fourth quarter. At the end of the day, it is what it is.”
- Paul George on it: “I wouldn’t say we had tired legs, but the Thunder definitely knew what we were up against. They knew this way a back-to-back for us. They came out with that urgency to really run us, and see if we could compete and match their energy.”
- KD came out cooking, and it seemed like maybe he was trying to say a little something about his matchup. If he was: “Anybody who’s guarding me, I take it personal. Paul George is a great defender, but I feel as if I get to my spots and do everything and play hard and forceful, I can score whenever I get the ball. That’s how confident I am with myself.”
- George, asked if Durant’s his toughest cover: “It is.”
- KD would never say so, but I’m sure he took extra pleasure in torching George tonight.
- Let me say this, though: Paul George is completely friggin’ terrific. Probably my favorite player, non-Thunder/Nick Collison division. Guy is just a straight up baller.
- The Thunder’s interior help defense was absolutely spectacular. The communication from the bigs was terrific and there was rarely any kind of rotation lapse. There was one possession the third quarter where Perk had to help on George Hill at the top of the key, Collison rotated over to help on Hibbert on the block, then Perk rotated back, then Perk had to step out again, Collison stayed with West, then Thabo helped down on Hibbert. The principles were really, really sound. A clinic on interior help D.
- Speaking of that, best game of Perk’s season, by far. His one-on-one defense on Roy Hibbert was really good, but he was running the show inside the paint on the defensive end. His six points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes look better, but it’s obvious that he can still have a very positive impact in the right circumstances. Like I’ve said all along, it’s about using him properly.
- Perk on defending Hibbert: “I like when you get to bang a little bit. The refs let us tangle and wrassle a little bit. He’s a big dude.”
- The Thunder really went after the Pacers with the high screen-and-roll. Said Westbrook: “Just the speed of it. I think we did a good job coming off hard — we got a few moving screens — but we’ll take those with the success we were having.” KD on it: “Well, Roy Hibbert sat back in the lane a lot, because he’s a great shot-blocker. And Russ just got wherever he wanted, and Reggie did the same thing. When teams play back on us like that, we’ve got to do a better job coming off hard, looking to find guys and being aggressive individually.”
- OKC’s first half was near perfection. They scored 56 on 54.8 percent shooting, and held the Pacers to 37 on 32.6 percent.
- The 118 points tonight is the most the Pacers have allowed since Jan. 4, 2012 (against the Heat). This is only the fourth time this season they’ve allowed 100 or more.
- That moment where Nick Collison blocked Luis Scola’s midrange jumper, then Derek Fisher punched him the ball and it turned into a Collison solo fastbreak. If Collison would’ve busted out a Eurostep, I would’ve run on to the court, grabbed the ball and just started yelling, “GO HOME IT’S OVER EVERYBODY GO HOME.”
- Someone tweeted at me that Adams is Urak-hai in the paint. That’s so perfect.
- Adams was pretty good and got to see more of the floor than he has the past few games. Few foul issues, but overall, not bad against Hibbert and West.
- Another good one from Reggie Jackson: 15 points in 26 minutes with four boards and three assists. He’s so good.
- The Thunder showed Gabe Ikard on the big screen, then OSU quarter Clint Chelf after him. But they spelled his last name “Shelf.” I mean, come on man. It wasn’t his fault on Saturday.
- Perk so desperately wants to be Kevin Love with his outlet passing. But Kevin Love, he is not.
- No rotation minutes for Perry Jones, but he went 3-3 for six points in four minutes.
- Steven Adams and Nick Collison’s pregame handshake routine: Just a straight up, firm, nice-to-meet-you handshake.
- Andre Roberson tonight for the 66ers: 25 points on 12-15 shooting, 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
- Frank Vogel said pregame he considers Russell Westbrook an elite defensive point guard. That’s nice of you to say Frank. But we all know Westbrook is far too inconsistent to be “elite” on the defensive end. Tonight was one of those nights where he looks pretty awesome on that end.
- There was a question last week about how Perk isn’t on the floor for the pregame prayer or national anthem, something I’ve never noticed. I watched tonight and Perk definitely is not on the court and walks back in from the tunnel right after the anthem finishes. Efforting an answer on this.
Next up: At the Hawks on Tuesday