The Oklahoma City Thunder had one of their most impressive wins of the year last night beating Dallas 95-79 to take a 3-0 lead in the series.
The Thunder squeaked by with victories in Games 1 and 2 despite poor shooting nights from Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki getting looks in the clutch.
It all came together last night for the Thunder though with Durant starting out hot scoring 15 in the first quarter and making three threes then Russell Westbrook coming on strong in the third quarter.
Durant made 11-of-15 shots last night and 4-of-6 threes for his 31 points. He made all four of his shot attempts from 16-to-23 feet as well.
Westbrook hit 2-of-5 threes and knocked down 5-of-9 16-to-23 footers to get his 20 points.
When Durant and Westbrook shoot like that they become the best team in the league.
We’ve seen through three games of this series Westbrook completely locked in on offense. His pull-up jumper has been money and Jason Kidd has done nothing to slow it down. Whether or not Westbrook is hitting that pull-up is a great litmus test to see how good of an all-around game he will play.
When the Thunder played their best basketball during the regular season it was largely because Westbrook was so efficient with his midrange game. When he started to miss that shot and force drives to the rim the Thunder started losing.
It’s weird that a player as gifted athletically as Westbrook is really better off not attacking nearly as much as we’d normally call for a player like him to, especially in the playoffs.
But within the constraints of the Thunder’s personnel when Westbrook is aggressive by getting his jumper instead of attacking the Thunder are a much better team.
The same goes for Durant in a sense. When he is looking to create off the dribble and post-up and driving into the paint for contact, the team isn’t necessarily at their best. Durant as a catch-and-shoot guy and running off screens looking to immediately pull on an open jumper is when he becomes deadly.
That’s the thing about these two. The fact that they are so great all-around and can do multiple things is why they are All-Stars and looked at as some of the best players in the league. But now in the playoffs when they can’t feast on poor defenses is when they need to hold back in a way and settle for jump shots.
It sounds crazy telling a team like the Thunder to settle for more jump shots but I’m only talking about their two best players.
James Harden needs to turn into an animal when it comes to attacking the paint.
Harden has killed Dallas so far driving and looking to score. He’s attempted 26 free throws in three games against Dallas and made 23. He’s only shooting .375 percent from the field but it hasn’t matter because of his ability to drive.
And if you look at the Thunder during most of the regular season it’s Durant and Westbrook that do most of the driving while Harden will tend to be more comfortable shooting a lot of threes (I say more comfortable and I realize that Harden really started attacking more this season).
I said before the playoffs started that it would be very important who the Thunder played in the first round in determining how far they go in the playoffs. It was going to have to be a team that made them play good basketball to beat them.
When I saw they would be playing Dallas I was pretty worried about the potential upset but assuming the Thunder get by Dallas (and they definitely should now) it is going to be good for them in the long run.
Had the Thunder been matched up with Denver and Durant and Westbrook were able to dominate by attacking I don’t think it would have been as good for them.
The way the Thunder trio played last night was perfect. If they play the rest of the postseason with the same mind sets and agendas then they will hit their potential.
Will it be enough though to beat the San Antonio’s and Miami’s of the world? Well, that is going to come down to how many midrange jumpers Westbrook makes.