Over/Under: three publications use some form of that headline for tonight's 110-104 Thunder victory over the Houston Rockets. I say push. What can I say, I'm very Michael Wilbon-ish.
Before we dig in, let me tell you, those 10 minute interviews with P.J. Carlesimo before each game are pretty painful. They seem to go on and on and on. Coach is pretty wordy and likes to ramble, but how about Matt Pinto's hair tonight? All slicked back and ready to rock. Reminded me of Coach Bombay in D2: The Mighty Ducks - we needed Jan to jump out and say, "Who vas dat man out der with the zuit and da vet hair? Vas it raining? ...It looked like you just got out of da showver!"
And anyone notice the change in the on-screen scoreboard? Could the KSBI crew be avid readers of the TW? Much smaller and much less obtrusive, but yet still a little on the big size. But definitely an improvement.
But as for the game, for blatantly obvious reasons, this is the the most encouraged I've been so far in this young preseason. There were flashes of some serious talent, but as expected with a young team, some flashes of serious failure. But coming out with a win is what matters. And the scrappiness and feistiness is what's most encouraging.
This is what P.J. can build on. The team can look at this tape and say, "This is what worked. Let's do more of that." Hang around, hustle, rebound, play tough defense and let your superstar take over in the fourth. That's pretty much the winning NBA formula. It may have just been preseason ball, but you could see clearly that OKC wanted to win this game. The team was well on its way to another loss down 93-85, but then something clicked for KD and he took over. He scored 20 of his 26 points the final eight minutes of the game, including the go ahead basket with just over a minute left.
One huge plus: only 10 turnovers. Considering the turnfest the team had going in the first three games, just turning it over 10 times can be directly tied to the win. Also, the Thunder out-rebounded the Rockets 45-40.
But let's get something clear before we start a parade down Reno and start flying banners - Yao Ming only played a half and Tracy McGrady only played a quarter. And keep in mind, Yao had 15 points and 16 rebounds in that first half. This game might have been very different had he played the whole thing.
Johan Petro (12 points, seven boards) did an admirable job on Yao and showed he has a little post game. He worked hard and played solid minutes down the stretch. And Nick Collison, (*stands up and claps*) I adore your hustle. He is the type of player that every team needs. He earns everything. Rebounds, points, minutes. He earns it. I love that. He scored 21 huge points and more importantly, inspired his teammates to play harder.
Chris Wilcox played better tonight as well (13 points, 14 boards). Looked strong on the boards and if he just gets it together, he could play with anyone. His physique is ideal and he has athleticism out the butt. But for some reason, he just hasn't turned it on. Maybe this is the year. I think this man needs a contract year to come out of his shell; dangle a little potential free agency millions in front of his face and maybe he'll do this for 82. Oh, would you look at that, his contract is up this year... hmm.
One reason to be encouraged:
The fourth quarter show-up. The Thunder outscored the Rockets 35 -27 in the money period and played with guts and heart to lock up the win. Kevin Durant showed why he is, the man. He struggled a little early but he came up big where stars come up big.
One reason to be discouraged:
None. There's things in the box score to pick at, but there's no reason. The team won and it feels good. KD played an excellent fourth and the squad closed. I'm not nit-picking tonight. But... the team did go 1-7 from downtown. Ok, sorry. I couldn't help it. Though overall, good game.
And how about the T-Town bump? And it wasn't even a full-fledged bump as the BOK Center only had just over 10,000 people show up for a half-full arena. But tonight's game reinforced my belief in the big-time home court bump for OKC. This team is going to play harder, faster and better at home because they want to win here. They feel the excitement and they want to produce. The Bump is real.