The Thunder are back!
Yes, after nearly a week of hibernation, the Thunder have come back into prominence with a few fresh faces. This game was just utter and complete domination by the Thunder from start to finish. But, despite what the score tells you, the game was not won by killing the other team on offense. Rather, it was by grinding their offense to a complete halt with some lockdown defense.
Why did the Thunder do so well? One can't forget the contribution of Nazr Mohammed in his first start for the team. On his first Thunder play was a block on the Pacers, which resulted in some easy transition points by Russell Westbrook. He had a nice defensive rebound on the next possession, which sealed his fate in my mind. Essentially, we got the best of Nazr Mohammed during the first quarter. Dominant defensive center, able to score at times, good rebounder. Combined with Ibaka, the two were unstoppable defensively, allowing no points fromHibbert or McRoberts over the first six minutes of the game. The defense helped the Thunder get out in transition for easy points, which Durant, Sefolosha, and Westbrook are adept at getting.
The Pacers had a decent end to the first, racking up 18 points after going scoreless for the first four and a half minutes of the second. But that's as successful as they would be. The paint was locked down by the Thunder, nobody could get to the line, and tight perimeter defense killed them offensively. The only play that seemed to work for them was a pick n' pop to one of their big guys. Otherwise, the team was hapless.
Below: A Few Downsides, Nate Robinson's Debut, Durant's Knee Injury, Future Analysis, Awards!
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a downside to the game. In the third quarter, we saw the bad side of Nazr Mohammed. He fumbled the ball out of his hands twice, and was overpowered in the paint by Roy Hibbert. Yes, he had bad hands, and he's undersized for a center. It's not all roses with Mohammed, but he still brings a lot to the team.
Nate Robinson's debut went relatively well. Late in the second, he entered the game to thunderous applause. After a couple of possessions, he got his first chance at Thunder points. He was wide open for the three on the wing, he jumped high, and the shot had a great arc. Unfortunately, the ball airballed over the basket. Nice try, Nate. We all have our moments. He would get his just due at the end of the second quarter, with a nice reverse layup all alone under the basket, putting the Thunder up by 21.
There's really not a whole lot else to say about this game. Nobody on the Pacers had more than an average game, and nearly everybody on the Thunder rolled. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the sole exceptions, with Harden having gone 1-7 from three point land, and Westbrook committing five turnovers, but it's not that big of a deal.
Perhaps the most negative aspect about this game was Kevin Durant's ankle injury, which happened late in the third quarter. He tweaked it going to the basket against A.J. Price, but the injury doesn't appear to be that serious. You hate to see him go down in a pointless game that was already sealed, but that's just the nature of the NBA. An injury can happen at any time, and you can't reserve your best players just for the great opponents. More info on the injury is to come on Welcome to Loud City over the next couple of days.
Moving forward, this win keeps the Thunder three games ahead of Denver in the division race, and it signifies a relatively easy sweep of the Pacers this season. For the Pacers, it means they're now 6 games below .500, with Charlotte hot on their trail for the playoffs.
On to the Awards....
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 21 Points, 3 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 2 Steals, 1 Block.
Thunder Down Under: Thabo Sefolosha, for outright shutting down Brandon Rush.
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, for 5 turnovers.
Thunder Plunderer: Dahntay Jones, 12 Points, 2 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Block.
Next Game: At the Atlanta Hawks, Friday, March 4th, 6:30 PM Central Standard Time.