Without Russell Westbrook, it’s painfully obvious — so painfully obvious — that the Thunder aren’t anywhere near as good as their normal selves. They struggle in the most frustrating ways, they lack any kind of cutting edge and sometimes, they simply look like a lottery team.
But there’s still a reason to watch, a reason to care, a reason to believe that they can beat any team any given night.
Number. Thirty. Five.
Kevin Durant went from Lambeau-Field-cold in the first half to surface-of-the-sun-hot in the second. He was 5-16 for 16 points after two quarters. He had 32 on 11-16 in the last two, including 23 on 7-11 in the fourth, which included a vicious step-back jumper with 4.0 seconds left to win it for the Thunder.
KD got started with a little 20-footer on a pin-down, then he made a driving layup. If I’ve learned anything from watching KD play basically every game the last five years, it’s that it typically takes him two consecutive baskets to start feeling it. Then if he sees a 3 drop through, it’s on. The pull-ups are coming, and there’s no telling what he might hit next. KD hit a 3. Then he hit a transition pull-up 3. Then he hit another one curling off a screen. Then he answered a Kevin Love deep ball with his own 15 seconds later.
When Durant decided it was a good idea to launch — contested — from something like 32 feet (it rattled in and out), I not only loved the shot, but I wanted him to start chucking them from halfcourt.
But here’s the thing about this game: Durant got them back in the race and eventually pushed them over the finish line, but it was a fewer key plays from other guys that gave KD that chance. The biggest that comes to mind are the consecutive rebounds Jeremy Lamb made, one defensive and the other a putback with 1:19 left to put OKC up two. He skied for another with 30 seconds left and had his legs cut out by Corey Brewer, drawing two free throws after a face plant. He knocked both down, giving the Thunder a 2-for-1 and up two with 30 seconds left.
What’s amazing about this game is that as hot as Durant got, he hit a 3 with 7:01 left in the fourth, then didn’t have another basket until the winner with four seconds remaining. KD had three free throws in there, but Nick Collison finished inside off a Reggie Jackson assist, Ibaka banged in a little six-footer from Jackson, Jackson made a layup set up by KD, Jackson hit two free throws, Lamb had the putback and made the two big freebies after his spill.
Here’s how crazy this game was: I’m now nine grafs in and I haven’t even mentioned how it actually finished. After Durant’s go-ahead jumper, Scott Brooks decided to sub on his “stoppers” bringing in Thabo and Perk for the Wolves’ final possession. It was pretty clear Minnesota was trying to get Kevin Love for a game-winning 3, so Perk switched out on him and contested the shot. A foul was called, giving Love three free throws and a chance to put the Wolves up at the line with 2.1 seconds left. He missed the first. He missed the second. And then he intentionally missed the third, throwing it off the backboard without it hitting the rim. OKC’s ball, and KD iced it at the line to give him a line of 48 points (an NBA season-high) on 16-32 shooting with seven rebounds and seven assists.
With the way the last two games went for OKC, blowing big fourth quarter leads at home, it’s fitting they’d come back from 10 down on the road to prevent their first three-game losing streak of the season. Durant just wasn’t having it. And it’s weird because with the way the Thunder played in the third, it looked like they were totally willing to accept this loss. Specifically Durant who was a bit loose with the ball and hanging his head after a couple bad turnovers from his teammates.
He just needed to see a couple shots drop. And then he started feeling it. He started believing it. And so did everyone else.
- Let’s talk about Perk’s foul. I never got a definitive replay so I don’t know if he got ball or he actually fouled him. I don’t really care. What I’m agitated about is Scott Brooks’ decision. It was textbook Brooks overthinking. He does this consistently in close games. He’s not a situational subber, except for on isolated one stop situations. The lineup of Jackson, Lamb, Durant, Ibaka and Collison had played essentially the entire fourth quarter, but in that spot he brings in Thabo, Perk and leaves Fisher on (who had just subbed in on the offensive end). Why? WHYWHYWHYWHY? Brooks might’ve feared Pekovic inside or on a putback, which is understandable, but bringing on two guys for one four-second play after they’ve been on the bench for about 30 minutes of real-time is just silly. Hated that move.
- All in all though, good foul Perk! Smart play!
- Hard not to think back on how the Thunder played the last time they were in Minnesota sans Westbrook. Little bit different performance tonight.
- Let’s be clear about what happened tonight, though: It was just Kevin Durant because effing spectacular. The Wolves were far and away the better team. The Thunder have problems without Westbrook and they should’ve been headed to their third straight loss. KD is just that stinking good.
- The Thunder’s crunctime offense was really interesting. It was essentially a high screen-and-roll with Durant as the handler and Lamb as the screener. A clear adjustment from their struggles against the Nets on Thursday. First off, having Lamb on the floor was wise. Second, using Lamb with KD there put the Wolves in a compromising spot. They were either going to switch the screen and get a mismatch, risk having Durant beat them to the paint and cause a bunch of collapsing and rotating. In the future, I’d like to see it more, and even flipped with Lamb handling and KD screening.
- Via Zach Harper, after the third straight 3, KD turned to the Wolves bench and said everything that needed to be said. “I’m a bad motherf***er.” I bet he even has a wallet that proves it.
- I’ve got no problem saying this: Lamb > Martin. Those two rebounds Lamb pulled in, Martin would’ve been standing firmly on the 3-point line during both.
- For example to further that point: Lamb went 2-9 and scored nine points. But he had eight big rebounds, three assists and two steals. If Martin went 2-9 last season, would he have impacted the game much anywhere else?
- It needs to be said: Brewer’s foul that sent Lamb to the line for two free throws with 30 seconds left was a horrific call. Brewer was essentially standing still as Lamb jumped over him and tumbled to the ground. From this angle, it even looks like Durant pushed Brewer into Lamb.
- Durant was spectacular, but a game after Perry Jones was OKC’s second leading scorer, Derek Fisher held those honors tonight with 13. Uh.
- Ibaka took a terrible shot with 50 seconds left. He found himself wide open in the corner for a 3 off an offensive rebound, but the shot clock had just reset and the score was 109-109. He makes it, great shot. But he didn’t, so it gave the Wolves a chance at a 2-for-1.
- Turnovers are a current problem. They’ve been one at times in the past, but 22 tonight is nearly what cost the Thunder.
- Steven Adams tweaked his ankle a bit, but before that was well on his way to a second career double-double. In 16 minutes he had 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. I wouldn’t say he did a great job on Pekovic, because the Minny big man owned whoever guarded him tonight, but he was better than most.
- Durant’s 32 shot attempts are the second most he’s taken in his career and get this: This is only the FIFTH time in his career he’s taken 30 or more shots in a game. Amazing.
- After Jackson failed to get KD the ball in transition in the fourth quarter, Durant stomped his feet and clapped his hands, clearly mad about it. Jackson reset the offense and OKC ended up with a good possession and two points. Still.
- Perk, five rebounds in the first five minutes. He was on pace for like, 48 rebounds there for a second!
- Brian Davis after a Perk turnover: “Sometimes you’re going to get that. And you can live with it because of all the other good things he does for this ballclub.” I feel like I just read an Onion headline.
- Gotta be hard for doctors to check Jeremy Lamb for a concussion. Because his face just kind of always looks like he has recently been concussed.
- Twice ref Eric Lewis waited to see if a shot went in to blow his whistle for a foul. It’s either a foul or it isn’t. I hate it when refs do this.
- Don’t you feel kind of dirty knowing that you cheered for Kevin Martin and his foul-drawing/flopping shenanigans last season?
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “It’s like trying to watch an elephant dance ballet.”
Next up: Home against the Celtics on Sunday