Scott Brooks and the Thunder made a key adjustment in stopping their increasingly bad habit of blowing leads at home heading into the fourth quarter.
They just gave themselves a little bigger cushion this time.
The Thunder led by nine against the Nets and seven against the Blazers going into the final frame. Sunday against the Celtics, it was a 14-point lead. And even better, the proceedings never even got close as Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson sat the entire fourth.
Coming off last night’s dramatic toughie over the Wolves, the potential for some heavy legs and a bit of hangover were strong. But the Thunder were solid throughout, particularly on the offensive end where KD finally got some help. After games where Perry Jones and Derek Fisher were the second leading scorers, respectively, Jackson stepped up with his biggest NBA night yet, scoring a career-high 27 on 9-12 shooting.
It was easily the best performance from Jackson as a starter, especially this season in which he’s averaged 12.7 points on 39.5 percent shooting. He found his rhythm and confidence early, scoring 11 in the first five minutes of the game on 4-4 shooting. In fact, those 11 were more than Jackson had scored in either of the Thunder’s previous two games.
Jackson has been forced into an uncomfortable role, playing in the place of a superstar, and I think it’s shown at times. Instead of letting the game come naturally to him in a normal pace and flow, he’s tried to force the issue a bit, sensing that the Thunder needed his scoring spark.
“Pressure bursts pipes or makes diamonds,” Jackson said when asked if he’s putting any extra pressure on himself. “I’m cool with it. I put it on myself. I expect big things out of myself as well. Haven’t done so lately, but happy to have a pretty good game tonight.
“I’ve been thinking too much lately. Especially moving to the first unit, how to play with these guys,” Jackson said. “I’ve been feeling a little out of character. Just try to get back to myself, try to be aggressive and let everything work out for itself.”
In the Thunder’s previous five games without Westbrook, Durant’s scored 34.6 percent of OKC’s total points. Tonight, KD scored 17.6 percent of them. (With Westbrook, Durant scores about 25 percent of OKC’s points.) He didn’t have to do it all, he didn’t have to take over a game for them to win or even have a chance.
“It’s not easy to come in and be a starting point guard on our team, after playing without an All-Star. It’s hard to fill those shoes,” Durant said of Jackson. “But I think he’s doing a tremendous job.”
And it wasn’t just Jackson. Kendrick Perkins was feeling it tonight, scoring 12 points on 5-9 shooting. Jeremy Lamb had 13 and a career-high six assists. Ibaka had 17 with 10 rebounds. Nick Collison and Derek Fisher both had eight. Hasheem Thabeet even had two points. The entire Thunder roster was good playing an end-to-end offensive game. I mean, Perk had 12 points you guys!
Coming off that slugfest last night, it was very nice for KD to only have to play 27 minutes and for the rest of the team to play so well overall. This was somewhat of a dangerous spot, considering how inconsistent the Thunder have been without Westbrook. But the tone was set offensively early on, and with Jackson supporting Durant the way he did, the Celtics were never going to be able to keep up.
- Durant might’ve had an even bigger rest had things gone wrong for him. He picked up a technical foul less than two minutes into the game, his second straight game with a tech and fifth of the season. But in the second quarter he took exception to a Kris Humphries foul, chirping at him. Humphries walked away, but missed an opportunity to get in KD’s face, which could’ve drawn a second tech and an ejection.
- Two things the Thunder improved on tonight: 28 assists, and only nine turnovers.
- Durant’s game was just a smooth, effortless flow. He had 21 on 6-13 shooting with seven boards, eight assists, and three steals. Just simple. He took a backseat, drawing defenders and making plays.
- Serge Ibaka put up his 15th double-double this season, matching his entire double-double total from last season. (h/t @ThunderStats on that one)
- The Celtics did trim a 21-point third quarter lead to 14 the final three minutes. It had the look of here-we-go-again, but the second unit had a nice burst to start the fourth and the game was over within a few minutes of it.
- It’s 9:58 p.m. and Thabo just pump-faked again.
- Just 1-8 in 24 minutes for Sefolosha. He’d been playing a bit better offensively lately, but he definitely took a step back tonight. It looked like he absolutely did not want to shoot the ball.
- Durant on picking up Jackson: “He’s been through a lot. I always want to encourage him. There are ups and downs in this league every day. You’re going to have great games, you’re going to have bad games. That’s everybody. But always be focused on the gameplan, that’s what we tell him.”
- Somehow in a 23-point win, Nick Collison was a -4 tonight. I don’t even know what to believe in anymore.
- Jeremy Lamb’s overall game is just becoming so impressive. After putting up a career-high eight rebounds against the Wolves, he had a career-high six assists tonight. He can score, and we can all see that. But the way he’s developing into a complete player is really tremendous.
- Perk on Lamb: “He made some plays today, I thought it showed signs of greatness. KG told me when a guy takes it to another level is when he can make everybody around him better. And I seen him get a lot of guys easy looks tonight off plays he made as a playmaker. To see that only as his second year, that showed a lot. And I think he’s going to be very special in this league.”
- On Jan. 5, 2014, Kendrick Perkins is averaging 12.0 points a game.
- Perk is bad at a lot of stuff, but one of the more fascinating things about his game is that he’s a really decent free throw shooter. How is Dwight Howard so bad, but Perk is so okay at it?
- Brooks on drawing up a play for Perk the first play of the game: “Because he’s playing against his former team. Give him an opportunity to score … It was fun to see him have a good game against his former team. I know when I played against the 17 teams that either traded me or cut me, I always wanted to play well.”
- Perk on that play: “I appreciate it. I thought he wanted to get me going. Scotty played in the league before so he knows how it is playing against a former team. I appreciate him doing it, but I don’t really care or not if he do that because that’s not what I’m here to do.”
- Just five minutes for Steven Adams tonight. He played despite rolling his ankle against the Wolves, but with the game in hand, Brooks made the wise choice to let him rest.
- Hasheem Thabeet scored two points in an NBA game tonight.
- Rapidly becoming one of my favorite Thunder traditions is OKC’s PA guy mispronouncing visiting players’ names. Tonight, he was saying “Jared Sullengurr.” Like with a hard G.
- I still love Uncle Jeff.
- Brad Stevens pregame was delightful.
- There are so many ways to make fun of the way Kelly Olynyk looks, that it’s hard to choose just one.
- OK, here’s one: Olynyk has real life Juwanna Mann potential.
- My question for Russ that I decided would’ve been stupid to ask pregame: “Why do you tone down your look so much to sit on the bench? Where’s the flash?”
Next up: At the Jazz on Tuesday