The Thunder were facing a problem on Friday against the Celtics that they’ve never had to deal with.
They had to play a game without either Russell Westbrook, or Kevin Durant.
The thought of that iss enough to induce vomiting, but the real question we all had was, could the Thunder even score 50 without their two stars? We’ve seen the Thunder grow, mature, develop and learn over the last couple weeks without Westbrook, but that was largely behind some unfiltered brilliance from KD. Without either, where would the points come from?
The answer: Everywhere.
Behind 21 from Serge Ibaka, 19 from Jeremy Lamb, 14 from Reggie Jackson, 13 from Thabo Sefolosha, 10 from Perry Jones and 24 from the rest of the team, the Thunder managed 101 to Boston’s 83, putting away a sixth straight win.
Yes, the Celtics are a poor team, especially without Avery Bradley or Jerryd Bayless in the lineup, and Rajon Rondo handcuffed with a minute restriction. But still, the Thunder were without their two best players and forced to play a way they never have.
And let me add this: There’s always so much praise for Gregg Popovich, the Spurs and their “system” with how they seemingly can just plug in anyone no matter the circumstance and still find production. And rightly so, obviously. But anyone want to give Scott Brooks a little credit tonight? What the Thunder were running worked effectively, and as someone that’s seen basically every offensive possession they’ve run over the last five years, they weren’t running any new sets really. It was their same stuff, and they just executed it with new bodies. There was a lot less isolation and more high pick-and-roll with a big and a small, but for the most part there wasn’t any significant offensive adjustment or any single player that just played out of his mind. The Thunder played sound defense, particularly in the third quarter, knocked down their open looks, took care of the ball and played together.
There’s no question that this game wasn’t near as fun to watch as others, but that’s what stars do. Durant is a party any time he takes the floor, same as Westbrook. The Thunder were more vanilla, more bland and more blah. They were a whole lot less explosive and basically turned into a simplified version of themselves.
Still, they had to get a few performances, and you can point first at Lamb who had 15 of his 19 in the first half and was dynamic scoring the ball in a number of ways, and creating for others (three assists). Ibaka found a great rhythm in the third quarter, and that was largely thanks to Jackson who picked up the bulk of his eight assists in the second half. Thabo went 6-6 from the floor. Jones had eight of his 10 in the second half. Heck, had he gotten the minutes, Perk might’ve dropped a double-double.
What I think was obvious in watching this game is how selfless this Thunder team is. With Durant joining Westbrook on the bench, there had to be a temptation for guys like Ibaka, Jackson or Lamb to feel like they had to shoulder the load and take over. Instead, they all played their games, and stayed within themselves. That’s a credit to Brooks and the culture he’s built. Nobody overstepped themselves, nobody tried to do too much.
They just played, trusted, and performed. I think back to three weeks ago when Ibaka sat against the Jazz, and the Thunder looked painfully lost, and didn’t have any kind of energy or intensity about them except for a small second half push. They’ve come a long way as a team since then. Durant is far more important to the success of the team than Ibaka, but they survived this game because they were able to stick to their principles and guys stepped up. It was just really impressive stuff.
Now, come back tomorrow KD. I don’t want to watch that again.
- The big news of the night: KD is no longer on top of the NBA scoring chart. Carmelo went for 62 in a win against the Bobcats, scoring 56 after three quarters.
- The Thunder shot 53.8 percent tonight and had 24 assists. Didn’t see that coming.
- Reggie Jackson might’ve been guilty of forcing things a bit in the first half, but he really settled in during the third quarter.
- Andre Roberson got nine minutes and played pretty well, picking a few pockets and blowing up a few passing lanes.
- Thabo had a nice offensive game, but I have weird confession: I want Thabo to play well, and when he does, it’s a big help. But I care so very little about his numbers. When he makes a shot, the only reason I especially care is if it means Russ or KD got an assist. I realize this is dumb.
- The Thunder are now 6-0 with Royal Ivey.
- Perry Jones played a career-high 32 minutes and was really solid. He didn’t really impact things too much until late in the game, but that’s really what I kind of like about him. He’s never forcing things, never trying to play outside his comfort zone. That would be bad if he was a lottery pick that a team was expecting star power from. But in his role, it works.
- It looks like Steven Adams might be growing a bit of a mustache. My dreams are coming true.
- Durant sitting tonight doesn’t impact his 30-point streak, I believe. In baseball, if you have a hit streak going and you sit a game, you don’t lose the hit streak. It just picks up with the next game.
- Jeremy Lamb nickname from @H_Claw: The Grim Sleeper.
- Remember when people really wanted Kelly Olynyk over Steven Adams? And when they really thought OKC blew it after two summer league performances from Olynyk? Remember that? I remember that.
- Derek Fisher: 3-4 tonight. But 3-3 when I audibly groaned when he was in his shooting motion. I’m telling you, this is a thing.
- Man, the Celtics stink.
- On KD: The fact he was in warmups tonight I think was a really good sign. I’m hearing there’s nothing serious wrong with him, but he’s still a gametime decision for tomorrow’s game.
Next up: At the 76ers on Saturday