With the way the Thunder had played recently, losing back-to-back games in lackluster fashion to the Jazz and Nuggets, style points were to be damned Saturday against the Bucks.
Didn’t matter how it happened or how ugly it might be, the Thunder just needed a win. Careful what you wish for.
Even with a 101-85 victory over the Bucks, an extremely necessary result, it didn’t leave anyone feeling all that much better outside it was better than the alternative. The first quarter was basketball dumpster fire as the Thunder led 14-10 while shooting something like four percent from the field.
“To be honest, all we wanted to focus on [tonight] was defense,” said Kevin Durant. “Maybe that’s why our offense wasn’t so good. But all we wanted to focus on was our defense. We told the guys before the game, don’t worry about making shots or missing shots, just worry about locking in on defense.”
For a good part of the first half, KD himself was definitely not worrying much about making any shots. He started the game 0-8 before finally making his ninth, a two-handed dunk. He was awkwardly hesitant, double-taking on open shots, passing the ball when he needed to attack and just plain missing clean looks.
Then he scared all of Oklahoma to death.
Durant was inadvertently undercut by Reggie Jackson and took ridiculously hard fall, crunching on the hardwood floor. Each second that passed without him getting up felt like 500 million years. He was down probably a minute on his back, gathering himself and trying to shake off the fall. He finally sat up, then stood up and despite favoring his left side, he hunched his way back to the Thunder’s bench.
And he stayed in the game.
First play out of the break, the Thunder went to KD and he hit a 3. Next possession, he finished a driving layup. Next possession, a soaring dunk. Durant scored the Thunder’s next nine points and after starting th game 1-9, finished it hitting his last 7-of-9.
“That fall woke me up,” Durant said. “One of my friends texted me after the game and said when I fell he dropped to his knees and prayed for me. So I guess that helped too.”
I think it woke everybody up. After that horrific first quarter, the Thunder managed to 87 over the next three, and for the most part, handle the Bucks. Milwaukee cut a 17-point Thunder lead to six at one point in the fourth, but the Thunder got stops, hit shots and prevented any kind of miserable fourth quarter collapse from happening.
I will say this, though: Winning is the undisputed priority, and it’s not even about playing well for OKC, which they most definitely did not do tonight, but they also need to start trying to find their identity without Russell Westbrook. They aren’t as good of a team, we can see that. But who are they right now? Are they a scrappy defensive team? Are they a run-and-gun team? Are they a slow-down halfcourt team? They are stubbornly trying to act as if one of the five best players in the world isn’t missing right now. Well, he is. And because of it, they have to play differently.
Here’s something, too: We know this team is capable of better even without Westbrook. They had the Blazers beat. They had the Nets beat. They smoked the Rockets. The smoked the Celtics. They beat a solid Bobcats team on the road. How they’re playing right now is a problem, and is very representative of how over-reliant they are on their talent and two best players, but they’re also better than this.
The win tonight is fine, because that’s what the Thunder needed at this current moment. We can start worrying about style again once they get the winning back under control. The Bucks are horrible and had their best player ejected in the first half and the Thunder struggled with them for a lot of this game. Not a great thing but hey, they won. And that’s where things are at right now.
- Scott Brooks, starting off his postgame interview: “Well, that was a shootout.” He wasn’t serious.
- It looked like KD was really overthinking everything to start the game. Especially his shot. Not that I’m an expert on his release, but his follow-through looked unnatural, like he was guiding the ball or something. After the fall, he truly did let loose and just start playing.
- Durant had his seventh game of at least 30-10-5 tonight, most in the league. There have been 18 in the NBA this season, with the second-most being five from Kevin Love. LeBron? He doesn’t have any.
- Great bounce back game from Jeremy Lamb (17 points on 6-10). Said Scott Brooks: “I’m proud of Jeremy. Jeremy had a tough night a couple of nights ago and he bounced back. A lot of times that’s not easy to do when you haven’t had a lot of experiences in this league.”
- Serge Ibaka with a huge double-double: 17 points and 17 rebounds with three blocks. Very active game for him (six offensive rebounds) and he seemed to be a little more comfortable and confident on the offensive end.
- Reggie Jackson: bad. Just 1-8 in 24 minutes with two turnovers and three assists. And he just looked uninterested. He had no energy or intensity. I wanted to say something after the Nuggets game about it, but tonight confirmed it: Jackson’s playing some soft defense lately. I’d question Brooks for playing Fisher over Jackson for most of the fourth quarter, but with the way Jackson not only played, but acted, it’s not hard to see his thinking. Jackson was 1-8, but had zero energy and kind of appeared to be either sulking or pouting for a lot of his minutes. The one thing about Fisher you won’t see is any lack of effort or any kind of sulking. Really, Jackson can learn a lot from reflecting on this one and watching the way Fisher played.
- An adjustment I’d just like to see just to see: Four guards and Durant. Go super duper small. Play Jackson, Lamb, Fisher, Sefolosha and KD. The Thunder need some kind of offensive spark, and playing two non-offensive players extended minutes in Perkins and Thabo is hurting them so much. With Westbrook, that wasn’t as much a problem because Durant and him are so explosive that they carry the load. Now, nope.
- The Thunder offense finally opened up in the third when Brooks went small subbing Lamb in for Perk. Probably just a coincidence though.
- Thabo took 16 shots tonight!
- The Thunder were 12-58 from 3 the last two games. They went 10-25 tonight from deep.
- KD’s last three games, he’s taken 52 total free throws. That’s 17.3 a game. That’s absurd. Obviously, immediately the assumption is that he’s only getting star calls and that he’s a flopper or whatever. But the thing is, every basketball fan preaches attacking, being aggressive and trying to get to the line. But when someone does it as well as KD is right now, then all of a sudden it’s ridiculous. Getting to the line is almost as much of a skill as shooting 3s is. Free throws are a major drag and aren’t nearly as fun as fast break oops, but in terms of effective, efficient scoring, it doesn’t get much better.
- Truly, I can’t remember an uglier start to a Thunder game for each team. After six minutes, OKC was 2-10, the Bucks were 1-11 and the teams had combined for five turnovers. It was like a director’s cut of Shaqtin a Fool.
- A selection of a few quality jokes about how bad the first quarter was: From @DJMatthews80: “It’s the girls game. Guys game will start after.” From @Z_Lyon741: “Sounds like your playing NBA 2K with 4 minute quarters to me.” From @gr8ball83: There’s a high school team somewhere KILLING their opponent with the Thunder’s talent right now.”
- Two guys in the lower bowl tried to get an M-V-P chant going for KD in the third quarter. Nobody joined them. Not even a little bit.
- Since when did O.J. Mayo get fat?
- Totally forgot who the Bucks coach was before I walked to his pregame availability. It’s Larry Drew. You can close that Google tab now.
- The Thunder started the game off without any kind of offensive flow, looking downright horrible the first six minutes. So the first player off the bench? Derek Fisher. I can’t even.
- Fast break Perk is the best Perk (via @JDonSports)
- Overall, Perk had a hilarious game.
- KD fouled Antetokoumpo on a drive late in the fourth and looked ready to dispute it heavily with ref Brian Forte. But he waited for the replay on the big screen before he went after him. Upon seeing it, Durant nodded his head and turned to Forte saying, “I got him.” Video replay probably spared KD a tech.
- Perry Jones corner 3s: Either an airball, or a swish. No in between.
- Two things just made to be together: OKC’s PA guy, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
- Steven Adams got under Larry Sanders’ skin tonight, drawing a high elbow from the Bucks forward. Adams of course walked away smiling.
- Said Brooks about Adams’ knack for that: “You know what he does really well? He just plays hard. And I look at that as a talent. Guys that play hard, to me, that’s talent … Whether it gets under guy’s skin, I don’t particularly know why, but he plays hard and he doesn’t want to get into pushing and shoving and looking at you and staring. He just plays hard and goes down to the next play.”
- Russell Westbrook was wearing the hell out of those jeans tonight. Amirite?
- Jackson has a bad habit of leaving his feet without anywhere to go with the ball.
- Brooks loves to start sentences about KD, “the one thing I love about Kevin is…”
- The one thing I love about Kevin is that he’s incredibly tough. He doesn’t get near enough credit for that. Dude is straight nails.
- I’m currently a little sick, which meant I intentionally stayed 500 yards away from Kevin Durant tonight.
Next up: At the Grizzlies on Tuesday