Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Role reversal: Oklahoma City outlasts New York 107-99

What a strange feeling to have as a Thunder fan. Winning a game and yet feeling some disappointment and frustration. And it's kind of weird to be on the other side of a comeback attempt.

But hey, it's a win. And guess what: TWO OUT OF THREE. Had it not been for Carmelo tearing out OKC's heart, this would have been three in a row. Can you believe that? But one encouraging thing to take out of it is that instead of OKC getting the "Here we go again" feeling, they closed. A month ago, the Thunder would have lost this one by eight points. But instead, they closed. They made clutch plays, got big rebounds and most importantly, won. And that feels good. Despite what may have happened in about an eight minute stretch, the Thunder played awesome for about 40 minutes, then hung on for dear life for eight. And won.

But the path to getting there wasn't pretty. After leading by as much as 25 late in the third, Al Harrington went on an 11-0 run by himself to cut it to 14. The Thunder called timeout, went on a 4-0 spurt and pushed it back to 18. But then New York went back at it and got it down to as little as three. At one point, the Knicks scored on 13 consecutive possessions. As the game tightened, so did the Thunder. Jeff Green (who was awesome tonight) was 7-7 from the free throw line. But late in the fourth, he missed three of four from the line. OKC turned it over time after time and in general was just loose with the basketball. Had it not been for the Knicks just going completely cold from three, this may have been a jump-off-a-building type game.

You've got to love OKC shooting almost 53 percent, hitting 24-31 from the line and outrebounding the Knicks by 11. You've got to love Kevin Durant scoring 27, Jeff Green doing the same and Russell Westbrook adding 22. You've got to love how the Thunder came out scorching, outscoring New York 35-23 in the first quarter. You've got to love the team playing well tonight, despite what happened to them the last time out. That HAS to feel good for them.

Tonight was about getting up big and hanging on. Something the Thunder has watched other teams do a lot to them this season. But you had to like OKC's chances as the Knicks are now 0-16 when behind going into the fourth. But check out OKC's last two first halves: 63 against the Knicks, 64 against the Nuggets. Look at these halftime numbers: Mason 11, Durant 17, Westbrook 17, Green 10. Earlier in the year, those were end-of-the-game numbers. Against the Nuggs, OKC shot 58 percent. Tonight, 53. This isn't a bad offensive team anymore. They're efficient, they're hitting jumpshots and they're scoring in the paint. I wrote about the problem earlier in the year and it was simply that the team couldn't hit jumpers. Now they are. Add in Westbrook's dynamic driving and this is a pretty good offensive team. But the horrible lapses defensively are definitely disturbing.

Kevin Durant continues to totally blow me away. On all of his 11 makes, I don't think he hit the rim once. Seriously. I really don't think he did. His game is becoming more and more complete as he's turning into a nice rebounder (eight a game since move to the three, with 12 more tonight) and he's got the dribble-drive working more and more. He's good. Plain and simple. Good. He didn't have as big a second half, but that's because when the ball went to him, he was doubled. And tripled. He may say he doesn't deserve to be an All-Star, but he's really looking like one. If he were on a winning club, heck, he might be on the outside of the MVP discussion. One other thing: He also played 45 minutes. He may be worn out tomorrow.

Russell Westbrook is getting a tad lazy with all those reach-around steal attempts. I know when I play a pick-up game, when I'm tired and no longer feel like playing defense, I won't try so hard to stay in front of my man and will just try the olay defense. It's a fine defensive move, but I don't think many players should be getting around Russell, so I fear it may be a bit of a lazy move. But other than that, Westbrook has been playing so freaking good. Another great game - 22 points, nine assists, six rebounds. And anyone else notice the Good, Bad and the Ugly theme played when WESTbrook scored, a la David West circa the 2005-2007 Hornets. If you close your eyes and Mason and Westbrook score back-to-back baskets, you may think you're at a Hometown Hornets game.

Not to leave out Green who was really the go-to-guy late. He created for himself, made shots, got to the line and rebounded well. Again, 27 points on 8-16 shooting, seven boards and 3-6 from three. So awesome to watch Green, Westbrook and Durant all click together.

One thing: Why is it whenever the ball goes into Mason in the post, I just want to turn my TV off for about four seconds? Oh, I know why. Because he's about to A) Turn it over B) Take a little baby hook that just hits backboard or C) Throw it away after getting caught in the air with no where to go. After New York cut it back to four with four to go, why go to Mason in the post - twice? WHY!?!?!? But with that said, I love Dez. He plays so hard and works his tail of defensively that I have no qualms with him. Except for that one thing.

Nenad Krstic didn't play tonight. Scott Brooks cited it being because he's something they like and there's no need to rush him along. He's right, but we all are dying to see him. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. It's not like he's a piece added to make a playoff run. It's probably a smart move. And evidently, no need for him tonight. Hi-Oh!

An observation about the Knicks: I know this isn't any huge revelation here, but if the three isn't falling, this team isn't that good. I've never seen a team give up on the offensive glass quite like the Knicks did in the first three quarters. The shot goes up and everybody puts their head down and heads for the defensive end, make or miss. They turned it up a little in the fourth, but before that, there was just no effort there. They almost look like a pick-up team. Everybody standing around, waiting for their turn to hoist a three, not playing much defense and not crashing the offensive glass. Of course, in every pick-up game you've got that one annoying guy that hustles for some unknown reason and works hard on the glass (David Lee).

Four good things for the young Thunder to take from tonight's game. 1) A win. That's what matters most. 2) Things to have done differently in order to not give up a huge lead. 3) Showing character to not let it get away and in the end closing it out. And 4) A win. Did I already say that?

After just a one game losing streak, the Thunder looks for two in a row again, this time in Minnesota tomorrow night. Definitely winnable, as long as everybody's legs don't fall off.


kelly said...

THUNDA!!!! nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah!!!!!!

Joe said...

I don't think it's that the Thunder are finally hitting jumpers, I think the team is working for better jumpers. They aren't launching them in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, they are driving and dishing, working the ball around the perimeter to find the most open man.

My 2 cents.

AD said...

Anyone think the T-Wolves will be a tougher game than the Knicks?... who'd guessed it just a couple of weeks ago?...

Last nights game kicked some...er... Rocked.

Royce... congratulations, my friend... you have returned one of the best sites devoted to the Thunder back to the fans... good job

Dooney said...

I agree with you, Joe... but sometimes they are doing that to a fault. When Durant gets the space and you think he's going to pull the trigger, he'll dish to Green who will do the same and then we end up with 2 seconds on the clock and Westbrook at the top of the key with a guy in his face. Doesn't happen too often, but did a few times last night.

Tim said...

The Big 3 are really playing to their potential and show great promise for the future. very exciting!

p.s. - more thundercasts!