In what is becoming one of the NBA’s best modern day rivalries, the Oklahoma City Thunder took care of the Houston Rockets and in the process rediscovered a couple of keys elements to their success of previous seasons.
Kevin Durant shook off a poor shooting night going 8 for 21 from the field but 18/20 from the free throw line on his way to a game high 36 points but it was the rest of the Thunder team who really enabled OKC to get back on the winners list and get a much needed road victory.
Since Russell Westbrook went down with injury, people have been quick to criticize the lack of production from the rest of the squad – in particular Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka. While it is well known that Ibaka struggled without Westbrook to create shots for him, Jackson had also come under scrutiny after being inserted into the starting lineup rather than producing the spark off the bench as he had been accustomed to. This game served as notice that the Thunder are more than just Kevin Durant and the support staff are capable of big things on any given night.
Heading into this game against Houston, the Thunder were underdogs. They were comprehensively beaten by Memphis, they have a poor road record of late and Jackson and Ibaka were struggling. A usually potent and dangerous offense was becoming increasingly more one dimensional which made the Thunder easy to guard and defeat. It was a different beast from the opening tip against the Rockets as Serge Ibaka produced one of his games of the season. He hit his first five shots and was brimming with confidence after the first quarter.
This was important for the Thunder because Durant was not going to be able to beat the Rockets by himself, and the Thunder are always more formidable when different players are making plays.
Ibaka would go on to register 21pts (on 10/13 shooting) 15 rebounds and 5 blocks in a dominant display. He played with clean hands, made plays when he needed too and frustrated the Rockets defenders by getting the ball in a position to make things happen. His help defense also frustrated the Rockets as they failed to get anything going in the second half – scoring just 19 points after a 73 point first half.
Reggie Jackson also quietened the recent criticism on his game as he ran this offense to perfection. He was a threat to score on any possession and was a handful on the pick and roll. He attacked the Rockets defense relentlessly on a myriad of pull up jumpers, strong drives and some ferocious dunks at the rim. The best part was that he was always a threat to score which enabled Durant and Ibaka to also do their thing. Of his 23 points on the night, the most important came when he scored five points within a 7-0 OKC run that saw them hit the lead.
Thunder fans would be very impressed with this game and more so the performances from the peripheral crew. Ibaka and Jackson – along with Lamb and Adams – are key components of this Thunder team. As speculation mounted that the Thunder were a one man show without Westbrook and even had Durant questioning his number of shots, this performance instills that confidence the Thunder started the season with. Reggie Jackson would have to be in the mix for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, and Serge Ibaka’s confidence should be sky high after delivering a display like today’s without Westbrook.
Many a rumor could be found on the internet about getting Westbrook back before the All Star break. While that would be nice, performances like this from the Thunder today show that there is no need to rush back. Durant, Ibaka and Jackson are holding the fort down just fine.