Isn't it great?
To feel like we're in cruise control on the road against the 5th best team in the West? Hell yes! The Thunder basically cruised to the victory late in the fourth, allowing the game to be tied only twice in the fourth, and never trailing.
How did the Thunder stay ahead? Well, late in the fourth, Okafor got the ball twice in the post. He was fouled, and he went 1 of 3. Trevor Ariza was also in a similar situation, and he missed two of his free throws. So, by forcing the hornets to go to the line, the Thunder were able to destroy any kind of offensive rhythm they had.
There was also the complete shutdown of David West. Wanna know how many points he had in the fourth quarter? Zero. Ibaka, Collison, and green did a great job of guarding him, forcing New Orleans to rely on some of their more peripheral scorers.
And how about the Westbrook-Paul battle? Both of these guys got extremely physical with each other, and were scoring and making plays all game long. Russell Westbrook had the better scoring night, but Paul was much better at handling the ball, keeping his teams offense going, and forcing Westbrook into bad turnovers.
Below: Awards, Future Analysis!
Nenad Krstic was out again tonight, so the Thunder had Serge Ibaka (who is from Congo, and is the Thunder Wonder) step in his place. He filled out his role well, scoring 18, rebounding 6, and having 3 blocks. A big man who can give you a stat line like that night in and night out would be seriously considered for an All-Star game, especially against opposition like Okafor and Mbenga.
Kevin Durant had the next best night, earning him the Thunder Down Under Award. His shooting left something to be desired, going 8 for 20, but he still had 25 Points, 5 Rebounds, 6 Assists, and 2 Blocks. Eric Maynor had easily the worst night, having an abysmal 10 minutes in which he turned the ball over twice, fouled twice, and missed a three. He also had a steal and an assists, but overall, his impact on the game was negative, so he receives tonight's Thunder Blunder Award. He's definitely an on and off type of player.
Every player for the Hornets seemed to have their ups and downs, so I'll dig deep on the roster and give the Thunder Plunderer Award to Jarrett Jack. His impact on the game was almost completely positive, scoring 13 Points, Shooting 5 of 7, rebounding 4 times, dishing three assists, grabbing three steals, and turning the ball over only once. Darren Collison who?
The Hornets seemed to have sparks of a good performance in almost all of their players tonight, but something held them back. Bellinelli shot well for most of the game, but he missed some clutch threes. Chris Paul allowed Russell Westbrook to score all over him. Emeka Okafor missed important free throws at the end of the game. David west disappeared in the second half. And Trevor Ariza was almost a non-factor. Thus, therein lies the Hornets' problems. Whenever the thunder have a bad performance from one of their big three, they can expect the rest of the team to pick up their slack, and for defensive pressure to work its own wonders. For the Hornets, it seems like if one cog falls out of place, 3 or 4 others automatically do the same, and they can't find a way to pull out a victory.
Now, sure, if the Hornets hit a few more free throws down the stretch, I might be singing a different tune. But the fact remains that the Hornets essentially had to rely on their role players for scoring in the clutch, and they just didn't pull through.
We'll see the Hornets again on January 24th, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see this team have a .500 record from now until then. David West has to accept his role as the go-to guy on offense, and Chris Paul may have to go back to his old scoring ways. Because what they have right now is another first-round knockout type of team, and with the ship looking to sail out of New Orleans, the time they have left with which to plug the holes is growing ever shorter.
Next Game: Versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday, December 12th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.