I realize the situation, what with the Cavs being mostly terrible, especially without Kyrie Irving, but I loved the way the Thunder played tonight. Great energy, great enthusiasm and great execution.
That is a sentence I had written at the 6:18 mark before the Cavs went on a 16-0 run to cut the Thunder’s 24-point lead to eight with 2:16 remaining.
Scott Brooks saw the game as handled, subbing in Mustafa Shakur, Perry Jones and Andre Roberson with 5:54 left and the Thunder up 22. After three minutes of not scoring, Brooks started to get a little nervous sending Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher back in. Jackson promptly missed an open 3, and Spencer Hawes canned one on the other end. Ten-point game. Fisher then had a senior moment, holding the ball mindlessly as the shot clock wound down, launching a wild airball at it buzzed. Bucket for the Cavs, and down to eight.
Durant finally got the ball in his hands and sliced through the Cavs defense, drawing defenders and dropping a beautiful pass to Ibaka for a dunk. And that pretty much sealed it, despite the Cavs whittling it down to five with 1:12 left after a dismal pass by Jackson in the open floor that set up Dion Waiters for a layup.
So, was this a good win or not? Since the near collapse was on Shakur, Roberson and Jones, I still think you have to feel pretty good about the way the Thunder played for 42 minutes while Russell Westbrook rested. Considering how bad the effort was against the Mavs, the Thunder looked a lot more sorted this time around, as Durant got a bit of his lone wolf scoring mojo back, taking the game over with 21 at halftime, and 30 heading into the fourth. All that was required of him in the fourth was making a few free throws to silence the rally.
Apart from all that nonsense above, the biggest takeaway was the re-installation of Jeremy Lamb in the rotation, and him responding with quality minutes. He had his first double-digit scoring game since Feb. 13, breaking an anti-Durant streak of 12 without breaking 10. In 26 minutes, 10 points on 4-10 shooting with three rebounds and two assists. It didn’t finish all that wonderfully for Lamb as he missed a few in the attempted garbage time mop up, but during the flow of the game, he was really solid and did his job well. This may have been a primary result of Westbrook being out and thus a new man stepping into the rotation, but whatever the case, Lamb got some minutes and did his job.
But with Westbrook sitting, the Thunder accomplished the objective. It was obvious as to why tonight and not tomorrow, as the Thunder are saving Westbrook for the more challenging game in Toronto. Brooks was rolling the dice a bit, though, as he apparently thought on it for a while, calling Westbrook a game-time decision at shootaround this morning. After being burned by the Mavs the last time when he sat Westbrook in the supposed “easier” game, he had to give pause for a moment here, wondering if he should just make sure of winning one of these two.
Instead, Durant and company handled their business in the manner they’re supposed to, and the Thunder take a full-ish squad to play the Raptors tomorrow night. Sometimes, a plan works out.
- Hey. That’s 50 wins. Good job, Thunder.
- On that: Little crazy that I didn’t even realize until just now looking at the box score that this was 50. How easy we become spoiled and take something like winning 50 freaking games like it’s an afterthought. But that’s the expectation that comes with a team like this. And really, there will probably be some (justified) disappointment if they don’t win 60.
- KD picked up his 14th tech, this one staring down Varejao after dunking on him. He said after the game he hopes to have that one rescinded, but if not, he’s two away from a suspension.
- Durant: 35 points on 12-21, 10 rebounds and six assists.
- That makes 33 straight for KD scoring at least 25. Also, today is Thursday.
- Serge Ibaka had maybe the best block I’ve ever seen from him tonight. Forget the importance and magnitude of the game. I’m talking strictly about the block itself. Late in the fourth he was trailing Waiters, and got the ball with his left hand. Incredible defensive play.
- Ibaka: 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes.
- Durant didn’t have an assist until two minutes left in the second quarter. And he finished with six. He kept scoring in the third, but then he started assisting, too. Actually, the real difference is guys finally made some shots after he passed it to them.
- I can’t get over how bad Jackson’s terrible pass was with a minute left.
- One play from Lamb tonight I didn’t like at all: With about six minutes left, he picked up a loose ball and had a one-on-one in transition. And instead of making a decisive, aggressive move, he kind of half-assed a Eurostep and lost the ball off his leg.
- Caron Butler was meh (eight points on 3-10 in 26 minutes) but he was a game-high +24.
- Steven Adams did some work on the offensive glass. I continue to say it: If he played 25 minutes a night consistently, he’d be a nightly double-double threat.
- Matthew Dellavedova definitely looks like a chipmunk. I just had to say it.
- Derek Fisher knocked down 3-6 from 3 and had 12 points, but that shot clock snafu and the two missed free throws in crunchtime were not good.
- Dion Waiters is some kind of chucker. Good player, though.
Next up: At the Raptors on Friday