Durant Nails Game Winner, Thunder Remain Unbeaten

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

I am glad Kevin Durant is on our team. I say that out loud just about every time he drills one of his silky smooth jumpers. Playing its fourth game in five nights, the Thunder played a sloppy game, turning the ball over 26 times. However, with 1.4 seconds remaining, number 35 sent the Thunder faithful home with a 104-102 victory after draining the game-winning shot.

Durant finished the game with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists. Serge Ibaka also had a solid game, minus his double miss from the free throw line with a chance to ice the victory. Ibaka finished with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, eight rebounds and team-high three blocks. Ibaka had been pretty quiet the first three games, so it was nice to see him have an impact tonight.

The Mavericks attempted 27 more shots than the Thunder tonight. The rebounding margin was even, so that disparity is mostly due to the 26 Thunder turnovers. A very sloppy game compared to last night where the Thunder only turned it over 10 times. Some of that can be attributed to this being the fourth game in five nights, but, still, not many games will result in a victory with 20+ turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, Russell Westbrook had seven of them again tonight. Westbrook missed his first three shots to start the game before he ended his 0-16 shooting slump. I felt like he got very tentative after his first couple shots didn’t fall. Westbrook did, however, redeemed himself in the fourth quarter (more on that later).

It was a very up and down game. There were some possessions down the stretch where our defense looked very good and there were times where we had devastating lapses (i. e. Vince Carter got wide open to nail that three pointer). Our defense must become more consistent. There were several reoccurring breakdowns, but overall, I think the communication is progressing well.

Post game grades:

Russell Westbrook: B

How was this for a bounce back game? I think it was above average. He didn’t have any where near his best game, but he had several key steals, rebounds and assists that kept the Thunder in the game. His fourth quarter performance was fantastic. He knocked down some clutch jumpers and free throws when the game was on the line. Russell is such a dynamic player that he can have an impact on many different aspects of the game. When his shots are not falling, he can still make important plays. He needs to keep that up.

Defending Dirk Nowitzki: C-

Dirk did to the Thunder what he did pretty much every game in the Western Conference Finals: make tough shots and get fouled. The Thunder threw just about every defender over 6’8″ at him to little or no avail. Kendrick Perkins did a decent job defending him, which was a pleasant surprise. Perkins displayed his improved quickness. Dirk isn’t the type of player that will beat you off the dribble. To defend him, you must keep your body as close to him as possible. That takes a high defensive IQ to not fall for his pump fakes and drop steps. That is why Collison has had success guarding Dirk. That is also why Ibaka struggles guarding him.

Making Baskets: A+

The Thunder shot nearly 59% from the field. That is a pretty nice day at the office. If the Thunder would not have turned the ball over so much, this would have been a blow out for sure. Some of the turnovers can be credited to the Mavs defense, but a lot of it was just sloppy play. The Thunder bench came in on several occasions and executed the offense very well. Sometime I watch the bench play and wonder if the 2nd team beats the 1st team in practice – the second team just looks like a more cohesive unit sometimes. Obviously, the first team has more talent, but at times it doesn’t seem like they mesh well.

Some other thoughts on the game:

  • In the fourth quarter, Westbrook was at the free throw line and was having a rough game up until that point. The crowd out of no where just started chanting RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! It seemed to give him a little confidence because the he drained the very next jumper he took. My wife literally almost started crying when it happen because she said it was so sweet that the fans believe in him.
  • Serge got into an altercation with Vince Carter at a point in the fourth quarter. I have no idea what started it, but Serge looked really mad. I love it when Serge gets angry. I just imagine him yelling profanity in a mixture of French, Spanish, English and his native African language.
  • When Cook shoots a three, do you automatically think its going in? I do. And more often than not, it does go in. I like that. Keep it coming DC.
  • The first four minutes of the game was brutal. The starting lineup tends to get very stagnate on offense if they are forced strictly to a half-court offense. They are great if they get out in transition, but if not, they struggle. It would be nice to not get down by 10 points in the first four minutes like we did tonight.
  • Did you just hear that? Oh wait, never mind. That was just another foul being called on Dirk.
  • The third quarter seemed like the longest quarter in the history of the NBA. With the mixture of the national TV timeouts and a foul being called every trip down the floor, I felt like I aged 20 years.
  • Harden’s beard > Vince Carter’s beard
  • Kevin Durant is just so dang good. That game winner was so smooth. I thought the play call was perfect. Harden and Perkins set good screens to give KD just enough space to drain it. The Thunder’s late game side inbound struggles were well documented last season, so it was great to see success tonight.
  • The Thunderdome was LOUD throughout the whole game. There was so much energy in the building. It was contagious. I rarely dance at Thunder games, but I did find myself shaking my tail feather a few times.

Next game is Saturday at home versus the Phoenix Suns. It is the New Years Eve game, so the place should be high energy again.

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