Games like this are typically boring to watch for the average fan. The pace is slow and stunted, transition offense is nowhere to be found, and both teams have seemingly impenetrable walls in the paint. But, to the more discerning fan, these games are more like a chess match. Both teams run complicated half-court sets, hoping for the life of them that someone will score or get fouled. And just when it looks like one team might gain an advantage, the other strikes right back. Both coaches plot tirelessly, waiting for an opening to reveal itself.
In the second quarter, that opening was found by the Thunder. They decided to secure the paint while looking for steals outside of the paint. For the most part, it worked out. The Bobcats got a few open shots, but they didn't capitalize, and the transition points the Thunder gained from this new strategy were invaluable, as they went into the half up 45 to 40.
The Thunder could have pulled away with the way their offense was playing in the third, but defensively, they made too many mistakes. Stephen Jackson got some easy jumpers, while things like goaltending and stupid fouls hampered our offense. Despite this fact, watching Kevin Durant and Stephen Jackson go at it in a scoring battle was rather entertaining. Eventually, the Thunder's mistakes had caught up with them, and the Bobcats took the lead with 4:28 to go. The chess match continued with a little bit more offensive flair, but by the end of the quarter the Bobcats were still ahead by one, 69-68.
Below: Fourth Quarter Dominance, Aldrich and Mullens Appearance, Maynor's Puzzling Shots, Awards, Future Analysis!
Fortunately for the Thunder, the floodgates opened in the fourth. The pace of the game increased, and open shots and space in the paint seemed to come more frequently. To paraphrase Larry Brown, the Bobcats looked like a pickup team. they couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, and they continually turned the ball over. To put it in perspective, their first field goal of the fourth quarter came with 2:54 to go.
After the Bobcats had been soundly trounced and had no chance of coming back, we were treated to seeing both Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens on the floor. How did it go? Quite Frankly, it was ugly. Both players were dominated down low, and were useless on offense. The term "project big men" would be apt to say in this instance.
Eric Maynor had an interesting game, as he had the ball at the end of the second and third quarter, and he shot it too late both times. The first time wasn't necessarily his fault, but the second surely was. He also had a similar situation against the Suns, where he hit a deep three after the quarter clock against the Suns. Brian Davis kept claiming that he's the end of quarter guy now, but I'm pretty sure he just shoots them because Durant and other stars are double teamed at the end of a quarter, and the other team fully expects him to shoot it. He finished with 5 points and 2 assists.
But Kevin Durant (Thunder Wonder) was easily the Thunder's saving grace tonight. He helped the Thunder get through a painful third quarter and helped out on the run at the end of the second half. He finished with 32 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block.
And even though his numbers were awful, Jeff Green has to get the Thunder Down Under Award. He led all Thunder scorers with 9 points in the fourth quarter, and was an integral part of the run that put the Bobcats away for good. He finished with 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Some might peg Russell Westbrook as the Thunder Blunder for tonight because of his 7 turnovers, but he more than makes up for it with his 3 steals, and the fact that whomever played point guard against him didn't do that well themselves. Rather, I'm going to give a combined award to Cole Aldrich and D.J. White, for playing like garbage in garbage time.
The Bobcats were playing so many players that no one guy had really good stats aside from Stephen Jackson (Thunder Plunderer). Overall, his game wasn't fantastic considering what I've seen him do in the past, but it was solid, and he did carry the team through the third. He finished with 20 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal.
Moving forward, we see the Bobcats again on March 15th. Should Larry Brown manage to keep his job and the Bobcats somehow stay with this same defensive strategy, I could see them being a huge roadblock in our quest for late-season playoff positioning. But, should they fall apart, move personnel, get a new coach, and change their strategy, I don't foresee them being much of a threat. It all depends on to what extent things will change for them. In my opinion, I think they're probably going to go for some drastic re-tooling, but in reality, they're only one good player away from being a playoff team again. Is that what they really want? For now, maybe, but the only way this team can be a serious competitor in the East is through some big changes. And fans can get spoiled really quickly.
The Thunder are once again tied for the division lead with Utah. Yeah!
Next Game: At the New York Knicks, Wednesday, December 22nd, 6:30 PM Central Standard Time.