As a fan of the Thunder, I want them to win every night they take the floor. That boils down to me pulling for them in every possession of every game they play. I’m disappointed when they lose out on possessions, and love seeing them win them.
Last night against the Wizards, the Thunder lost a bunch of possessions, maybe even the majority of them. It was far from their best game and not one of the most entertaining ones for most of the game.
A late surge in the fourth quarter and clutch three-pointer by Kevin Durant changed all that. It erased the mistakes that were made earlier, and reminded us Thunder fans why we love this team so much: their potential is endless and when they put it all together, even if only for little stretches, there is nothing like watching them.
That of course starts with Kevin Durant, who was magnificent last night. He’s been struggling with his shot somewhat to the start of this season, and despite being efficient last night, it was once again evident that he is still struggling as some of his jumpers were uncharacteristically way off. He can easily make up for a shooting slump (by his standards of course) since he is becoming a terrific all-around player as well. The three he hit in Trevor Ariza’s high was surely the highlight from last night, but he was great on the defensive end too and had another nice collection of assists.
There was a time not too long ago when Durant was far from perfect. You loved him because of his potential and the “unfairness” that you felt when he scored in so many ways. His jump shot has always been beautiful and his drive constant, but he wasn’t always the best decision maker. Last year was the first for KD in which he had more assists than turnovers. A few years ago the Thunder would struggle mightily on the defensive end when he was at the four, largely because of Durant’s reluctance to slide over and help in the paint.
This is not the case anymore. So far this season, I can count on one hand the amount of times I scratched my head at a decision Durant made. Most of those times are times he’s being unselfish, overpassing in my eyes. LeBron has been this way for a long time. You can watch games and games of LeBron and feel like he is always two steps ahead of everyone else. His decisions seem so calculated and that’s because they are. That’s what makes him great. We’re seeing KD starting to become that kind of player as well.
Before the Thunder went on to outscore the Wizards 14-4 in the final 2:48 of the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook was still allowed to play in the game. He got ejected after (for the second time in the game) getting into it with Nene. I felt like Russ was in a pouty mood for a lot of the game. It’s nothing knew with him, he often goes through what seems like basketball mood swings for stretches. He hit a three in the third quarter that is a shot that usually gets him out of that kind of mood. But ultimately, frustration got the best of him.
Perhaps it was just Nene that frustrated Russ to the point of ejection, or maybe it was also the struggling shot he has been dealing with since his return. He’s shooting just 33.8 percent from the field this season and where he’s been the worst is at the rim. Russ is just 13-for-38 on shots taken at the rim, which is only 34.2 percent. He’s taken 53.5 percent of his shots at the rim so far this season.
Whenever I would take a lot of time off from playing basketball, my touch around the rim was one of the things that went. It’s something you can’t practice on your own, making contested shots inside at game speed.
The other thing that goes is your anticipation of everything around you. You know how players always talk about (in any sport) how the game slows down for them with the more experience they get? That’s part of why we’re seeing Russ turn it over more in the early stages this season. Derrick Rose is going through the same thing, too.
The amazing thing about Westbrook is that his game last night still provided a lot of valuable for the Thunder. The pressure he puts on a defense to make decisions is always something that is valuable. He only finished with four assists but he created many more opportunities than that. It’s early. He just got back. He will be fine.
With Russ really struggling, Serge Ibaka stepped up more than anyone, putting up monster numbers with 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. The looks he’s getting with Russ back are much cleaner and within the flow and rhythm of the offense. The great thing was seeing how well he finished at the rim, which is where he really has struggled to start the season.
The other part of last night’s game that cannot be ignored was the play of Reggie Jackson. I’ve been critical of Jackson and his decision making so far this season. That’s not because I don’t like him. He has a ton of talent and in small doses, while making the right decisions, he can be lethal. That was the case last night as he really sparked the Thunder after Russ got ejected. The Thunder don’t win that game without Jackson. That game last night is one he may not have been able to have in his first two seasons.
Perry Jones, after not playing vs. Detroit, played 14 minutes and a lot of the fourth quarter. Brooks really likes his defense. He wanted more length out there with PJ3 and even ended up with a lineup that basically had Durant at the two. It looked like he wanted to find someone to stick Beal, who scored 34 in the game and really looks like he’s going to be a future star in this league. Jones is solid and feels like he is going to be a reliable role player this season. That’s all the Thunder need him to be right now.
No one else really shined for the Thunder. Jeremy Lamb hit a huge three late in the fourth, Thabo decided to not even attempt a three, and Perkins went 0-for-3 from the field in just 19 minutes.
Next up for OKC will be a couple of nationally televised games this week, at the Clippers Wednesday (ESPN) and at Golden State Thursday (TNT).