For a minute there in the third quarter, the proceedings went from worrying about Kevin Durant not getting his 25 points before inevitably sitting the fourth quarter, to worrying about the Thunder letting the Jazz back in the game.
After a 26-9 first quarter, the Jazz ripped off 31 in the second and 37 more in the third to whittle the Thunder’s lead to 12 with a few seconds left before the final frame. Durant already had his 25 at that point, but it was beginning to appear like he would need some more to make this thing completely secure.
Final possession of the third, Durant isolated on Gordon Hayward at the top of the key, lost his dribble, recovering it in time to launch as the buzzer rang. Bang bang, Thunder back up 15 and really with that one shot, any thoughts of a true Jazz comeback were snuffed entirely out. Then it was just about the Thunder’s mop-up crew doing its job and meaning Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t necessary.
Like the Kings game on Friday, Durant had only three quarters to get his 25, but in the same way, never forced a thing. He came out of halftime and picked up three assists and popped 3, and then sat on 21 for a lot of the quarter. And really, it was getting increasingly frustrating watching him play completely unselfish basketball, making the extra pass and looking for the right play instead of forcing his way to 25. But that’s the mentality that makes Durant so special. Instead of ever crossing the boundary, he seems to just naturally lean on doing things in the proper context.
“I’m just going out there and playing my game. If it happens, cool. If it doesn’t, cool. That’s how I approach it,” Durant said. “Just playing within the offense. If my shot’s there, shoot it. If the pass is there, pass it. I try and play as simple as I can and if that comes with it, so be it. But if not, I’m not going to lose any sleep.”
That kind of stuff is easy to say, but in the midst of an MVP skirmish, you would think the humanity would creep in and influence that mindset. But Durant’s play always speaks loudest, and the nine assists he piled up — five coming after halftime — tell the bigger story. Durant has somehow kept this 25-point streak alive despite sitting the last two fourth quarters. How? By scoring 60 points on 18-24 shooting, 7-10 from 3 and 17-17 from the line in 58 total minutes his last two games. If you’re going to drop 25 in three quarters, you’ve just got to do it by scoring 1.03 points per minute on 75/70/100 shooting splits, that’s all.
But now, things turn from caring mostly about a scoring streak to having interest in the actual games. Against the Kings and Jazz, barring something stupid, we knew the oncoming outcome. Now, it’s four days off before the Spurs come to town, with a game 24 hours later against the Rockets. The Thunder are still in the conversation for the No. 1 seed, even if the Spurs’ winning streak has made things a tad unlikely. Durant’s now just two away from Jordan. And if he’s going to get there, he’s going to have to earn it against two excellent teams.
- Durant’s final line just so you all have it handy: 31 on 9-13 shooting, 4-6 from 3, four rebounds, nine assists and a steal.
- Westbrook was the backdrop tonight, scoring a quiet 19 on 5-11 with four assists in 25 minutes. You don’t often say Westbrook scored quiet points, but he kind of did.
- Gordon Hayward gave the Thunder big trouble the last time these teams played, but he was somewhat neutralized today going just 5-13 for 16 points and nine assists. The Thunder forced the ball from his hand as much as possible as Andre Roberson did a nice job on him.
- I like when the Thunder play the Jazz because it serves as my reminder that Richard Jefferson is still in the NBA. And he scored 15 in the first half today!
- Early in the third quarter, Hasheem Thabeet calmly walked over to the scoretable, asked someone a question, then turned around with a big smile on his face, clapping as he walked back to the huddle to tell something to Caron Butler and Jeremy Lamb, high-fiving them. Wonder what that was all about…
- Butler was asked about the Huskies postgame and joked about waiting for someone to ask him saying, “You guys are talking about the game. I’m talking about The Game.” Pregame, Butler was all over Perry Jones and Reggie Jackson about their college affiliations, even saying, “Y’all going to chapel? Pray for Boston College.”
- Butler had himself a quality game, scoring 15 on 5-8 shooting, hitting 5-5 from 3. That’s the kind of production I can get behind.
- Not fearing him off the dribble whatsoever, the Jazz picked up Derek Fisher full court every time after a made bucket. It didn’t completely disrupt the Thunder’s offense, but it did make them uncomfortable somewhat, especially late in the third when the Jazz made a little run.
- Westbrook was asked about how he’s felt lately about his defense: “I’ve stepped up a lot. I feel like we need to start the game off more defensively and I thought we’ve done that the past two games.”
- Nick Collison was really good in 24 minutes today. He had eight points and seven rebounds and it was getting to the point where I was looking up when his last double-double was.
- Something of note with KD’s streak: It’s actually 38 straight games with at least 26 points. Doesn’t change anything with him chasing MJ though, as his streak included all games over 26 as well.
- Steven Adams got tagged with fouls again, which prevented what could’ve been a nice statistical day. He was absorbing every rebound the first few minutes and finished with eight in 18 minutes.
- The Thunder hit 11-18 from 3. That’s now 12 straight games of hitting at least nine 3s. Or at least that’s what I heard Lesley McCaslin say.
- Reggie Jackson sat again, which gave Jeremy Lamb 22 minutes. He hit 3-8 for eight points with four assists, and even ran straight point guard late in the fourth. That’s really where I think Lamb is most effective, with the ball in his hands.
- The first few minutes of the game, Westbrook complained about Trey Burke being “on his elbow” on every shot. Then wouldn’t you know it Westbrook got a call on a 3 for… Burke hitting him on his elbow. Supposedly.
- Joe… Bonamassa.
- Quietly, the Thunder have won six of seven, the only loss coming in overtime against the Mavs where Westbrook sat overtime. There’s been some angst about their position in the West, but they’ve kind of been playing some good basketball lately.
- The 2 p.m. tip wasn’t bad. The arena was full and the energy was still good. I’m in favor of it.
Next up: Home against the Spurs on Thursday