W. Bennett Berry
Quick recap: Russell Westbrook led a Thunder comeback over the Pistons in Detroit, 92-90.
The Oklahoma City Thunder came from behind to defeat the Detroit Pistons on the road, 92-90. In a game that likely made most of the Thunder faithful nervous, OKC followed a lackluster first half by trailing by double digits heading into the 4th. The lukewarm win from two nights ago seemed to be a harbinger of things to come, as the Pistons seemed to have found an answer in dealing with the high flying Thunder.
Suddenly, things switched on for OKC. The Thunder started the 4th with a 17-2 run and completely altered the outcome of the game. Russell Westbrook led the charge with 33 points on the night while grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds, handing out 4 assists, and swiping 3 steals. Kevin Durant aided in the comeback effort by scoring 26 points of his own, grabbed 9 defensive rebounds, had 3 assists, and blocked 4 shots.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The game was the 2nd night of a double-header, so as usual, caveat emptor. However, regardless of reason or excuse the Pistons had come to play and through 3 quarters were outplaying the Thunder. The Thunder defense was not bad per se; they held the Pistons to under 40% shooting on the night. Despite the low shooting percentage, the Pistons were consistently battering the Thunder down low, grinding their way to 50 points in the paint on the night. Coupled with the Pistons' game plan, it was OKC's failure on the offensive end of the court to get any sort of rhythm going that paved the way to a frustrating first 3 quarters.
The Thunder are at their offensive worst when two trajectories intersect: Westbrook becomes too dominant while Durant becomes too passive. When that happens, Westbrook ends up dominating possessions and forcing contested jumpers while Durant stands in a corner wondering if his buddy remembers who he is. The Thunder's offensive worst happened through 3 quarters, and despite the Thunder win, that is the first major element of what we will take from this game.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The second element of the Thunder's win is of course that they won. The reason why they won is because OKC is a team that possesses enough scoring talent at the right positions that they can find their shooting range in a hurry. When you couple that offensive spark with the fact that once again the Thunder played very good defense, it makes comebacks not only possible, but increasingly likely.
Despite trailing by 11 heading into the 4th, the Thunder rolled off a 17-2 run over the first 4 minutes of the quarter to retake the lead. The comeback was led by Westbrook, who scored 14 points in the 4th, and Durant, who had 9. The effort was aided by both men, but the energy was provided by Westbrook. This is going to be yet another game where NBA pundits will argue back and forth about whether Westbrook is a net positive or a net negative for the Thunder's hopes. I know the numbers say one thing (and there are plenty of numbers), but at the end of the day, Westbrook has that same something in him that is owned by Jordan, Iverson, and Kobe. It is nasty and sometimes detrimental, but at its core it is the dog fight. Westbrook will never go down without throwing a punch, and in the 4th quarter he threw everything he had.
The truth is that for all of MJ's greatness, he had plenty of games like the one we just saw from Westbrook. MJ dominated the ball, forced bad jumpers, forgot his teammates, and shot his team right into a losing proposition. However, he never gave into the situation, figured things out, and fueled the comeback. On Westbrook's 24th birthday tonight, he did the exact same thing.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The juxtaposition of two statistics tells us a lot about who the Thunder are. OKC shot an abysmal 37% from the floor, and unlike last season, it was not simply a bevy of contested 3-pointers. Shots were rushed, and rushed shots were not falling. However, place that shooting percentage next to the team's free throw shooting for the night: 37-42 from the stripe (88.1%), including 21-25 between Durant and Westbrook. OKC's shots were not falling. That's fine. It has happened before and it will happen again. The difference tonight though was that when the shots didn't fall, the team got aggressive instead of passive and began working their way to the free throw line again and again.
The Thunder worked their way into the free throw bonus 6 minutes into the 4th quarter, and by doing so, they were able to negate not only a poor shooting night but also used it to stay in front of the shell-shocked Pistons.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
There was quite a bit of Westbrook hate going on during the 1st half, and reasonably so - he wasn't playing well, and he wasn't playing well while simultaneously disabling OKC's ability to play well in any other offensive compartment. However, the flipside is that for the half Westbrook took, he gave it back in the 4th quarter alone. He pushed OKC back up the hill so that they were in a position to win in the end. He knows he is going to take crap for it, but he won't change how he approaches. That may be defiant, but it is also unapologetically fearless.
Meanwhile, the Thunder defense continued to be a bedrock during the team's struggle with consistency. Defense can right a multitude of wrongs, and tonight's defense held the Pistons offense to 6 points in almost 9 minutes of play. The defense does not always have to play great, but it is good to know that it can play great and give the team a chance to win in the end.
|Final - 11.12.2012||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||25||20||17||30||92|
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 33 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, only 2 turnovers.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, 26 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks.
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins, 1 point and 4 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Thunder Plunderer: Rodney Stuckey, 19 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds.
Next game: vs the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 14 at 7PM CDT
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