Five Thoughts 3-10-18 (Thunder 104, Spurs 94)

1. With the exception of the final 5:00 or so, the Thunder defense tonight was excellent. It was probably the best overall defensive effort since Andre went down. First of all, the team clearly took this game very seriously. From the outset, the energy and intensity was good. It was hardly a thing of beauty offensively, but their defensive pressure never wavered. Most importantly, it didn’t disappear either. Maintaining consistency game to game or even just within an individual game has been a problem all season long for OKC. Tonight, they didn’t jack around. Their effort to start the second half was equal to how they started the game. They fell asleep at the very end of the game and started allowing far too many uncontested shots, but it was pretty much over by that point anyway. For the overwhelming majority of this game, the defense was stellar.

2. Corey Brewer is sort of like the new dude who moves into the high school late in the year. He may not be the biggest stud the ladies have ever seen, but he’s being treated as such because they are just so tired of all the other dudes. He’s only been on the team for four games and he’s only had two starts. But keep this in mind, in those two starts he has scored 17 and 12 points respectively. In contrast, Huestis has never scored double digit points in any game HIS ENTIRE CAREER. Abrines has had his fair share of decent scoring games (tonight was one of them actually) but he generally follows it up with a Houdini disappearing act for chunks of games at a time. Brewer is a pro. I don’t anticipate him to average 15 points per game as a starter and I don’t anticipate him to keep draining three’s at an efficient rate. But I DO anticipate that his defense will be steady and that he will continue to move on offense and be a factor on the fast break. I anticipate he will remain a solid free throw shooter and I anticipate he can finish easy looks generated by Russ breaking down the defense. In other words, I anticipate him to continue to be an upgrade from what we were getting from that position.

3. A residual effect of Brewer potentially being an effective starter is that it also strengthens the bench by default. Now, we are asking less of guys like Abrines and Huestis which makes it MORE likely they will be able to help. We aren’t quite as desperate for someone (anyone) to help out the stars. So when those guys do get a chance to impact the game, the pressure is dialed back and they are more likely to be relaxed and confident. The bench hasn’t helped much this year, but they were great tonight. Jerami Grant has had a really, really nice year. He’s done it somewhat quietly, but he’s often been ALL they have to offer coming off the bench. I love his aggression— he plays bigger than he is. Even though he can hit three’s from time to time, he doesn’t park himself at the line. He also rarely settles for a jump shot. He drives the ball consistently and he has developed into a very good finisher at the rim. Impressive improvement from Grant this year.

4. The Nick Collison Show was one of the cooler moments of the season. I’ve mentioned a few times in the blog that I would have liked to see Nick get some “real” minutes this year. Not as a 15-20 minute per night guy, but as someone who can play a spot role and be a situational rotation player as opposed to what amounts to another assistant coach. So it was great to see him get into the game tonight while the outcome was still in doubt. It was even better to see him immediately put the ball in the basket. He started 3-3 and quickly racked up his 7 points. The crowed reaction was great (sort of) and the “MVP” chants were funny. The reason I say “sort of” is because of something Nick himself mentioned post-game. He said he often now feels like the college walk-on. Like the team manager who finally gets in the game and the crowd goes nuts. While this comes from a good place from the fans— they are simply showing their appreciation to Mr. Thunder, it also comes across as a little awkward. He isn’t Rumble. He doesn’t have fur. He isn’t the team mascot. We are taking about a star college basketball player who then became a very steady NBA player. I guess you can’t blame it all on the fans— his teammates do it too. Bench goes bananas when he scores. He’s gotta be wondering exactly how it all came to this? That said, there are far worse things than becoming a fan favorite.

5. Very nice win. Second game in a row Thunder have generally looked good in all facets start to finish. They did it tonight with both PG and Melo struggling mightily. They go to ten games over .500 for the third time this year. They’ve never gotten farther than that. Each time they’ve climbed that mountain they’ve lost the next game or games and had to start the climb again. They are about to have the easiest possible back to back you can imagine in the NBA. They have Sacramento at The Peake Monday and then go to Atlanta the next night. Neither of these teams are particularly interested in winning games right now. Thunder should help them realize their goals. No messing around. After this not-so-deadly duo, the schedule takes a pretty drastic turn so we would be wise to go into “take care of business” mode ASAP.

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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Ed Kleese