Thank you Nick Collison. What an awesome, gutsy hustle play to give Oklahoma City its first win at home in 47 days. That play really summed up why the Thunder came out 91-83 winners over a fast imploding Toronto squad.
For 48 minutes, the Thunder simply outworked the Raptors. Loose balls, charges, steals, everything - were going OKC's way. The effort was obvious from the tip and part of that reason was a shakeup in the starting five. Finally, Scott Brooks got Damien Wilkins out of the first five. Playing with him out there for the first eight minutes of a game was like having a dead body being drug around. I was actually planning on doing some research to find out if Wilkins was maybe the most unproductive starter in league history. Also, maybe the Johan Petro experiment is wrapping up. Collison finally got the start at the five and while the group was small, they were also quick, much more energetic and way better defensively.
You look at the box and its got all the symptoms for another Thunder loss. Eleven missed free throws, 18 turnovers, 3-13 from downtown and just 44 percent from the field. But the biggest thing is the Raptors shot a miserable 36 percent from the floor and OKC outrebounded them 54-48. Chris Bosh was held to a 6-18 night and Russell Westbrook played excellent defense on Jose Calderon. Coming in, both teams were giving up over 100 a game, but tonight either both teams played good defense or both teams played bad offense. I think it was a bit of a combination. The Thunder rotated extremely well, the intensity was very high and OKC doubled Bosh some, but Collison and Wilcox really did a nice job one-on-one.
Oh and look out world, because Russell Westbrook's jumper is coming along. He's getting more and more confident pulling up and he's not forcing it to the rim all the time. He went for 19 on 7-12 shooting with eight assists. At times, he really looks unguardable. Kevin Durant didn't shoot the ball all that well, but still managed 24 and eight boards, but nailed a monster trey with about three minutes left (How about his posterization of Jermaine O'Neal; that was awesome). And Desmond Mason was huge - seven points and 10 rebounds, but his energy and intensity really carried the team tonight. Really, it was just a total team effort - Joe Smith was great, Jeff Green played well even though he was saddled with foul trouble and Wilcox had good minutes.
Rumor has it Bosh refused to speak with the media after the game and got into a small tussle with a PR guy. I guess that kind of stuff happens when you lose to a 2-24 team. But I think the Raps are about one more bad loss away from totally blowing up. They were 8-9 under Sam Mitchell and since he was burned, they're 2-7, including a loss to the Thunder. And more than anything, they lost because it just looked like they had given up and got out-hustled. Ouch.
Look, I know OKC is 3-24. It's not good. At all. No matter how you try and mix it. But that's sure better than 2-25 - one game better in fact. And with the way the Ford Center responded after the win, that little 91-83 win meant quite a bit. My wife, who has no interest in the team whatsoever except for cringing every time she hears "Thunder" because the name bothers her so much, was on her feet urging the team on late. She was joined by 19,000 other people that were begging this team to finally win one in front of them. There's a reason OKC got tagged for having such great fans. Tonight was a good example of it.
While some of it was half joking, half relief and all happiness, fans were high-fiving, yelling in the streets and honking car horns around the Ford. I know that sounds pretty stupid, but this city is dying, and I mean dying, to embrace this team and make them its own. And tonight was a step towards that. One guy behind me was talking to his friend and said, "You would have thought we just won the NBA title or something. But hey, I'll take it. This feels good - just don't remind me of our record." This group has played better under Scott Brooks and has been in every game except one with him at the helm. Tonight, instead of the traditional folding down the stretch, the Thunder rose up and got it done.
When the Raps cut the 10 point lead to to three for most of the fourth and then finally tied it, everybody in the building had the "Here we go again" feeling. But instead of locking up and kicking the ball away and failing to get rebounds and giving up easy buckets and missing bunnies in the lane and giving away possessions, the Thunder actually did all of the above. It started with Durant hitting that huge three to break a 76 -76 tie. But it was highlighted by Nick Collison's hustle play - going to the floor against Bosh and wrestling the ball away. But instead of getting a jump ball, Collison kept working and kicked it out. The ball swung around to Westbrook who drove and banked in a jumper to put OKC up by four, 85-81, and basically put win No. 3 in the bag for the Thunder. This may be a little ridiculous to say, but when you've only won three games, big moments are few and far between, but Collison's play is probably the play of the season so far for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City gets a day off before King James and the Cavs come to town Sunday night. Last time the two squads matched up, Cleveland walloped the Thunder by 35.