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Thunder Grinds Past 76ers 92-88 Behind Gritty 4th Quarter Defense

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.

Post Game Grades

Rebound: A
The Thunder did a great job rebounding the ball tonight. They out-rebounded Philly 56-39, but did allow 13 offensive rebounds.  OKC hit the offensive glass hard tonight and pulled down 19 (big thanks to Westbrook). If the Thunder can’t cut down turnovers (they had 17 tonight), big offensive rebounding games can neutralize the turnovers, which is a big reason why OKC stayed in the game.

Shoot the Ball: C-
OKC shot 38% from the field tonight. Neither Durant or Westbrook had stellar offensive games, so its amazing that they won the game. It’s a great sign that the team can shoot poorly and still have chances to win games against good teams.

Assists: D
It was a very bad night for ball movement. The 76ers made it tough on the Thunder to get dribble penetration, which caused a TON of standing around trying to get the ball to Durant for an isolation play. As I mentioned earlier, it would be better to initiate the offense off a high pick and roll rather than Durant or Westbrook isolation at the top of the key. Hopefully this area will improve as they head down the final stretch of games.

Other Thoughts on the Game

  • Westbrook was a beast tonight on the glass. I don’t think you can give enough credit to him for his effort. He really kept the team in the game with his hustle plays.
  • Philly is a very well-coached team. They dictated the pace and style pretty much the whole game. OKC never really got great opportunities to run in transition.
  • Perk got his 12th technical foul on a weak call. Grant Long seemed to think it would be rescinded by the NBA, but honestly, it didn’t look any different than some of the other T’s called on Perk this season that have not been rescinded. So, I think this one probably stands. If it does, he is one away from an automatic one-game suspension.
  • Perk did have my favorite play of the game. Serge was falling out of bounds on a rebound and he threw it towards half court to save it. The ball was going straight for Perkins and instead of catching the pass at his feet, Perkins just stopped the ball with his foot, preventing it from going into the back court. He basically just kicked it right to Durant to start the offense. BD said “kick save and a beauty!”, which I loved.
  • Durant drained a 3 while getting booed at the end of the first half. It was ice cold.
  • I don’t know what was said but Durant looked like he was going to street fight Evan Turner. I liked that a lot. More of that, please, KD.
  • As a national writer pointed out on twitter tonight, the difference between Philly and OKC’s chances in the playoffs: in the clutch OKC was feeding Durant. Philly was feeding Lou Williams?
  • Harden quietly played a great game with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The offense just ran so much better when he was on the floor tonight. He is like a release valve for the offense. If Durant and Westbrook are struggling, give it to Harden and he will create something. That will come in handy in the playoffs. I just hope OKC learns to use it more often.

Next up: Thunder in Orlando on TNT

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