1. One word for this game would be “professional win.” OK, that’s two words. But just “professional” sounded weird and depending on where your mind leads you could take you to an undesirable (or maybe the opposite) place. In any event, I found this to be one of the more satisfying games of the year for the Thunder. It was neither a tough spot or an easy one. Utah is only so-so without Gobert, but they are tough at home and EVERY back to back in the NBA poses challenges. It was impressive to see the Thunder play a complete game without any wild fluctuations quarter to quarter or half to half. Tonight they just looked a good NBA team, period.
2. Much is being made of the change Billy Donovan and the staff have made moving Carmelo Anthony off the ball with less isolation in favor of spitting up to catch and shoot more often. The advanced statistics bear out that this is a wise strategy. It also makes sense because it keeps the ball in the hands of Russell Westbrook, allowing him to make life easier for Melo. What we’ve seen as a result is more open looks and more overall effectiveness from Anthony. This is actually what I expected from the outset, but I hope we don’t get an exaggerated version where Anthony never steps foot inside the three point line. He is still a very capable overall scorer and can be effective when isolated. Moving him off the ball makes sense. Relegating him to catch and shot only, doesn’t.
3. Great game from Paul George. Both personality-wise and his on-court game, George is pretty laid back. He’s sort of the opposite of Westbrook which is why there is such great potential there for them to be a deadly combo. Tonight, George didn’t necessarily do anything that totally jumps out at you, but if you break this game down you realize he absolutely dominated the entire night. He was incredible defensively, harassing the Jazz on almost every possession. On the other end he was pretty smooth. A good mix of jump shots and drives to the rim. Highly efficient. George doesn’t need to blow the doors off every night. We have Russ to go into Bananas Mode when we need it. George can be “Joe Cool.” He and Westbrook were both awesome tonight. Thunder will be tough to beat whenever you can say that.
4. The nine-point effort from Patrick Patterson may have been the most important stat of the night. Thunder are in dire need of shooting off the bench and there is no reason Patterson can’t be the one to provide it. He’s done it most of his career and the Thunder aren’t asking him to do something he hasn’t done before. He’s shown some signs recently. I hope Donovan responds by giving him a few extra minutes like he did tonight.
5. Still won’t say the Thunder have turned the corner, but they are clearly out of the doldrums and the silly questions about “will they even make the playoffs?” can probably cease for good. Now it’s a matter of consistently producing the way they have the past week or so. No more ten minute offensive lapses, no more stupid losses to awful teams. The Christmas game against the Rockets will be a very good measuring stick. Beyond that, it’s the first game of four straight at home to end 2017. I wanted 6-of-8. They are already 4-0 so now let’s get greedy and go for three of four. It’s nice that they go into the game with Houston feeling good about themselves.
Ed Kleese is a long-time Thunder season ticket holder and a smart Thunder fan. You can read all his work on his own personal blog.
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