Very strong showing against the Hawks last night. Yes, the Hawks were without Josh Smith. However, as of late they have been playing well, having just beaten the Bulls in their previous game. The Thunder look more or less the same from a numbers standpoint, but visually, they just look so much better balanced than before. James Harden has stepped up to provide extra Scoring and Daequan Cook has continued to take strides to be a key bench player.
The real key to the game though was Russell Westbrook, who took over the game just as it appeared as if the injured Kevin Durant was beginning to tire. You could tell Russ had a chip on his shoulder after the last game's "controversy" about his triple double. The kid was hungry and it showed.
Mayberry's post game notes offered here. He notes that while Westbrook was aggressive, he seemed to miss a lot of shots right at the rim. James Harden did too.
Durant, a game-time decision most of the day, was able to start in his normal role and actually played a full game of 40 minutes. It was the kind of game that franchise players are supposed to play - the ones where they know they have a weakness, so they seek to maximize their play in other ways. Durant clearly didn't have his drive going on late in the game; mostly he settled for step-back shots. I would guess this is because his ankle probably started to swell as the game went on. However, his impact early on was significant in building the lead that the Thunder never lost.
The pivotal point in the 4th came right after the Hawks nearly caught the Tunder, pulling to within two. Russell Westbrook, clearly amped up all game, stepped up and knocked down a huge three to give the team a five point lead.
"Coming out of the huddle, we knew they weren't going to leave me. And he said, ‘I'm going to knock down the next shot" - Durant on Westbrook's 3-pointer
This is an excellent post that takes a look at one of the big topics covered at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The topic was Tracy McGrady, and the panelists were two of the men who knew him well professionally - Rockets GM Daryl Morey and former coach Jeff Van Gundy. In the era where we are all Witnesses, people forget that before LeBron, there was T-Mac. There was a stretch of time when he was arguably the best player on the planet, the evolutionary Dr. J to Kobe's MJ. The topic raised the question of, when a player's ceiling is higher than everybody else's, how much of a disappointment is it when that ceiling is never reached, even if that player's '8' is still better than all others?
Here is an argument that, while the Thunder's in-season trades put them ahead of the curve, the question remains whether they could have gotten Nene in the off-season. While his all-around game is probably superior to Kendrick Perkins, I think that Nene is going to have an asking price that is too high.