First off, isn’t it great to see the Thunder playing games again? It seems like forever since the Lakers game last Thursday night. They came out tonight and played like a team that was out of rhythm a little bit. The first two possession of the game resulted in Thunder turnovers, an area of emphasis moving into the second half of the season. However, when it mattered most the team played hard-nose defense and gutted out the victory 92-88.
There are good things to take away from this game and there are bad things. Obviously the lights-out defense the team played down the stretch was very impressive. There was a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter in which the 76ers did not score. I think I remember two air balls in a row. I thought the guards did a great job containing dribble penetration on the perimeter, which allowed our bigs to sink more to the interior.
Most of the night the Thunder got killed in the paint. Philadelphia outscored Oklahoma City 46-30 in the paint. However, on key possessions down the stretch the 76ers couldn’t get any good looks within 15 feet. That is a good sign for the Thunder. Granted, I would liked to have seen Oklahoma City string together several quarters of that defensive intensity, but for now, I will be satisfied with the final eight minutes of the game.
Another positive was the aggressiveness of Russell Westbrook on the offensive glass. He had more offensive rebounds than any other player in the game (7) and game-high total rebounds (13). In the first half he was getting to the rim very often, but Philadelphia did a great job in the second half keeping him in check. As Westbrook so often does, he found a way to impact the game in other areas. No rebound was more crucial than the one he grabbed with 4 seconds left on a missed FT by Durant, which essentially sealed the game.
Now the bad stuff. The Thunder’s offensive performance in the third quarter was by far their worst of any quarter all season. They managed just 10 points on 2-20 shooting. What were those two field goals? A 20-foot jumper by Ibaka and a three-pointer by Daequan Cook. Neither Durant, Westbrook nor Harden scored a field goal in the third quarter. I don’t have the numbers in front of me now, but I would go out on a limb and say it has been a while since that has occurred, if ever.
Philadelphia made a few halftime adjustments that really frustrated OKC’s offensive attack. The guards applied more pressure on the perimeter and they double Durant early. The Thunder did not do a good job recognizing the defense, which caused the possession to stall and usually resulted in a forced shot attempt. Going forward, the team needs to more quickly recognize and adjust to that type of defense and run more Durant/Harden or Durant/Westbrook pick-and-Rolls.
Overall, I think this was a fantastic road win for the Thunder. They needed a game to shake off the rust before playing on national TV tomorrow night. They stepped it up when they needed to and pulled out the win.
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