With 2:43 left in a tie game, the Thunder came out of an official timeout with a beauty drawn up. Kevin Durant coming off a down screen, on his favorite right wing and in rhythm on a catch-and-shoot from 3. Durant took care of the easy part, splashing from deep to put OKC up 115-112, their first lead since the second quarter.
It was the kind of shot we’ve gotten used to over the last couple weeks — or really, years — with Durant knocking down something important late in a close game. But the next two minutes didn’t go well.
Chris Paul made two free throws to pull the Clippers back within one. Russell Westbrook, in his second game back, then bricked a wild jumper. On a physical postup, Blake Griffin drew a foul, and made both free throws — 116-115, Clippers, 1:53 left. Durant returned the favor in getting to the line, but missed both his free throws. (So to recap that, Griffin makes two clutch free throws, Durant misses two. OK.) That set up a big 3 from Jamal Crawford, Durant missed a jumper, and the Thunder finally got a stop. to Durant came back with a driving layup to trim it back to two. But Crawford rolled in a floating jumper with 39 seconds left to make it a four-point game.
That’s where our story really begins. A chance to get a two-for-one, the Thunder elected not to call timeout. Westbrook took the inbounds pass, flew up the court, and tossed a reckless 25-footer at the rim. No good, Clippers rebounded, Paul made two more free throws and boom, game wrapped up just like that.
It was kind of a perfect snapshot of the fear, worry and anxiety so many of the anti-Brodie contingent have had over the years, but especially with Westbrook returning recently. Durant was sitting on 42, and fresh off popping that big time 3 a few minutes a go. In a big moment with the Thunder needing points, it was Westbrook who assumed the responsibility of hoisting the shot. Durant never touched it.
Now, do I have a problem with the shot? Sure. It was a terrible look. But not because Westbrook took it. Just because it wasn’t a good shot. And at the same time, Westbrook’s kind of earned the right to take those. Ask yourself: If Durant fires that, you probably don’t care. Obviously KD has more of a 3-point license, for good reason, than Westbrook, but you can’t tell one superstar yes and the other no. It’s never worked that way. Again, that doesn’t excuse the fact it was a poor idea, especially since he was just 3-12 before it, but he’s made enough of them to make it acceptable. No, Durant didn’t see the ball in a big spot, which felt weird only because of the last few weeks where he was entirely the focus. Here was Westbrook, truly announcing his return. It was part of the good/bad act we’ve all grown very used to, and something you are forced to live with.
But that play was really the most minor influential thing about this game. It really was more about the stampede the Clippers had in transition, their crazy shot-making ability, and the fact OKC’s defense didn’t do anything to help out. For all the worries about the Thunder’s offense after the Miami game, they bounced back nicely with 117 points (an offensive rating of 108.8, which is solid). They just gave up 125 (a defensive rating of 118.9, which is not solid).
“Obviously we’ve got to get back to playing defensive basketball,” Scott Brooks said. “The good thing about tonight’s game is our offense is back to clicking. We scored a bunch of points. Usually when you score 117 points at home or on the road, you’re going to win your game. Especially with the way we normally play … But they got hot early and were hard to turn off.”
The Thunder have been put in a pretty compromising position here. One, this is post-All-Star, always a tough time to reignite. Two, they’re adding back a high usage player like Westbrook, and doing it with him playing with a minute restriction which means awkward rotations. And three, they’ve had to play two of the NBA’s best teams while doing all that. Yep, two straight home losses isn’t fun, and until the Thunder get righted and Westbrook gets back to being himself, there will be grumbles about how they look since adding No. 0 back in. Mainly because Russell Westbrook ain’t changing, which means he provides plenty of ammo to grumble.
But with the next four games being against the Cavs, Grizzlies, Bobcats and 76ers — all at home — any and all low rumbling negativity going on right now will probably subside rather quickly.
- Jamal Crawford was the difference-maker. Really. That’s pretty much the summary of the game. He had 36 on 13-20 shooting with 5-8 from 3, and hit a ton of big shots late.
- KD got it going late in the third with a dirty pull-up 3, and Brooks didn’t make the same mistake he did against the Heat. Durant started the fourth and played the whole way, going for 46 minutes tonight.
- Derek Fisher was just excellent. Really. He was great, on both ends. I’m starting to think the guy needs to play more, which terrifies the crap out of me.
- Boy, Reggie Jackson really did bad things today. One of his biggest assets is thinking he’s really good, because he plays with incredible confidence, something necessary when you’re sharing minutes with Durant and Westbrook. But one of his biggest problems is he thinks he’s really good which gets in the way of him playing to his role. The best Reggie Jackson has to offer is balancing between confidence and arrogance.
- To which: A mistake Brooks made was leaving Jackson in and Thabo out. The three guard lineup with Jackson, Westbrook and insert guard has always been really good, but today, with the Clippers creating so many problems with their group of Paul, Crawford and Barnes, Jackson’s defense became a pretty severe liability. And he wasn’t providing enough offensively to make it especially worth it.
- The first apparent casualty of Westbrook’s return: Jeremy Lamb. Just 16 minutes and two shots.
- Serge Ibaka after three quarters: 20 points on 10-16 shooting. Fourth quarter: zero points on 0-0 shooting. I asked Scott Brooks on why he seems to have trouble sometimes staying involved offensively in the fourth quarter. “I disagree with that. Maybe tonight. He’s been terrific in fourth quarters. He didn’t get a shot. One of the things I believe in all our guys is making the right plays. Kevin had 10 assists, Russell had six, we had 26 as a team. That’s just part of basketball. You’re not going to always get shots, but you’ve just got to continue to work and don’t discount any of the game and be ready when you do get them. Serge has been very good and he’s going to continue to get better.”
- I disagree with Brooks’ disagreement. By quarter, Ibaka’s shot attempts on the season: 4.4, 2.4, 3.9, 1.8. Now, it’s natural for Ibaka’s shot attempts to reduce in tight games because your high usage players see the bulk of the offense, but at the same time, you’ve got an effective offensive player that’s not seeing really any of the offense. Why?
- Durant bristled a bit postgame when asked if the team was in a “rut”: “Rut? I don’t think we’re in a rut.” Asked later if he thought the team was playing well, he answered: “We always can get better. We’ve beat these two teams before. But we can always be better. We gotta figure it out. Every team goes through a stretch throughout the season. It’s a long year. Every game is not going to be good. Unless you guys come in and beat us up all the time and talk negative to us, we’re going to think that way. We’ve got to keep our heads up, keep pushing, keep getting better, learn from our mistakes and we’ll be alright.”
- Kind of a weird game for KD. He picked up his 10th assist early in the third, but didn’t have another the rest of the way. He made a few passes that could’ve resulted in one that his teammate missed, but really, he went from facilitator to scorer pretty fluidly. And he only had three rebounds, with just one in the second half. Probably had more to do with the Clippers never missing than anything else.
- The Thunder used a heavy dose of smallball against the Clippers big frontline, going with Durant on Griffin and Ibaka on Jordan. I think it worked pretty well.
- The Clippers just crushed OKC in transition. They had 27 fast break points in the first half, and 34 for the game.
- I don’t know if TV caught it, but during the brief Hack-A-Jordan thing in the first half, Westbrook was stalking the pending misses, hovering at the 3-point line waiting to fire off at the rim once Jordan let it go. Both times, Westbrook blurred in and grabbed the
- Westbrook got to break out his first 3-holsters since returning. And it was fun.
- Early in the third, Russ had a breakway dunk, but turned around and dropped it to KD for one. Westbrook has done that for a long time, but KD looked at him today like, “Why did you dunk that one?” The reason is pretty simple: Russ sees himself as KD’s setup guy — even if he’s often not — and tries to devotedly remind even himself of that role.
- That exchange late in the fourth where Griffin made his free throws and KD missed both — neither should’ve been at the line. Officials can get baited into a whistle so easily by what the expect or perceive to be contact. Griffin’s the one initiating everything into the defender and then flailing about. Durant tried a rip move but Barnes guessed it, moving out of the way, but almost out of habit, the official called it.
- Players that look down at their feet to check if they’re behind the 3-point line shoot 0.0 percent. Probably. I’m mainly talking about you, Thabo.
- Matt Barnes folded the top of his shorts over. It was the worst part about this game.
- There was a lady sitting somewhere in the section behind me today yelling, “Get the ball back!” every defensive possession for the Thunder. They were getting it back a lot. But having to take it out of the net first.
- Kind of interesting that in Steven Adams’ starting introduction, he was announced being from New Zealand, not Pitt.
- Hack-A-Whoever is so horrible. Clippers had a 5-on-3, but Adams takes the foul on Jordan in the backcourt and ruins a break. It might’ve been because Westbrook was down, but regardless, a foul 70 feet from the basket while the ball is on the other end shouldn’t stop play. Make it like soccer and play advantage or something.
- First time in Thunder halfcourt shot history the guy let the girl take the halfcourter. She went with a baseball throw, and came up short.
- Durant attempted 30 shots for just the ninth time in his career. This is the sixth one he’s had while playing with Westbrook. The other three came during January and February of this season.
- Fun fact: The Thunder are 0-3 this season without Perk. Goodbye to everything you previously ever believed in.
- Westbrook asked if he knows how many more games he’ll play with the minute restriction: “Nah.”
- Durant had his ninth 40-point game of the season, and the first 40-point, 10-assist game of his career.
- KD on Jason Collins: “I just think about basketball. Physical, physical center that plays his tail off. That’s all we should worry about, is how he plays basketball. A guy that’s been working his tail off since he played with Boston looking for his chance to get in the league and now he’s back. That’s all we should worry about, everybody, is how he plays basketball.” Durant was then asked he he thought he’d be accepted. “Yes, I think so. From what I’ve heard from all the guys that known him, great teammate that puts his body on the line for his team. And I can roll with anybody like that.”
- Westbrook on Collins: “Jason’s a good guy. I know him personally, worked out with him a few times in LA. Jason’s been playing in this league for numerous years and regardless of what he does off the floor he comes to work every day and does his job.”
Next up: Home against the Cavs on Wednesday