Sometimes, you just have to wait for the other team to miss.
That statement couldn't have rung truer tonight, in a game where the Thunder and Nets combined for 228 points, echoing Warriors-Suns matchups of old. But this game was unique. The old Warriors-Suns matchups saw small lineups run up and down the floor and hoist up bad threes like no tomorrow. This game just saw both teams unable to stop each other. The Nets don't play a lot of help defense, and they don't get a lot of steals, so the Thunder were able to plow right through their man-to-man matchups and get easy points. On the other end, the Nets were able to take care of the ball and get all of the offensive rebounds they wanted, so they were able to see a share of the success as well.
But the way in which the Nets have an advantage over the Thunder means that their runs were a lot slower to happen. The Thunder could acquire points quickly if their shooting got hot, but the Nets had a much slower paced offense that often had 2 or 3 chances to put the ball in the basket. A quick look at the popcorn machine illustrates my point. Most of the Thunder's runs were shutouts and lasted no longer than two minutes. Meanwhile, the Nets had two prolonged 11-4, along with two other long fourth quarter runs.
If you watched the game tonight, you'll have noticed that the Thunder were up 13 at halftime, and were knocking on the door of blowing this game wide open. What happened?
Well, the Thunder offense got really complacent. The first half was nothing short of a miracle for the big three in terms of shooting, as they combined to shoot 16 of 21 for a whopping 76% from the floor. The Thunder were getting key steals for easy buckets, sure. But they were also evading the man-to-man defense extremely well off-ball, and and getting into the paint with extreme ease. By the end of the second quarter, the Thunder were so confident that they were hitting absurdly difficult shots, and had the Nets on the ropes.
But in the second half, they started getting too overconfident in their shots, and the bricks started racking up. Kevin Durant in particular looked really bad during that stretch, missing an off-balance shot along with three well-defended fadeaways that served to break the Thunder's offensive flow. Westbrook missed a couple of shots in the face of defenders as well, and before you knew it, the Thunder's offense was thrown back into 2010. Westbrook and Durant thought they were in the zone and forgot the rest of the team.
So Scott Brooks benched Durant and Westbrook. It would be the first time Ibaka saw the floor for the Thunder this year without the dynamic duo, and he shined. He scored 7 points in the span of 2 and a half minutes while the rest of the team was firing up some questionable long-range attempts. But defensively, the bench wasn't really able to handle the load as the Nets took advantage of their pressure and nailed a bunch of open threes.
Durant and Westbrook made their grand return in the fourth, and we finally had a basketball game. Because of the Thunder's trouble guarding the perimeter, Brooks opted for a small lineup, with Collison at center. The result was pretty much a pile of meh. Collison was able to score a bit inside early on and the Durant/Westbrook combo kept things chugging along pretty well. But the rebounding situation got so bad that at one point, the Nets got six consecutive tries at a score. In other words, they rebounded their own miss six times. Which is just absurd.
But the Thunder eventually went back to the starters, and they closed out the game well. Perkins and Ibaka helped to open up space on the offensive end and they got a couple of key rebounds. Moreover, Durant and Westbrook were simply able to rise up and hit the clutch shots they needed. The final nail in the coffin was a putback by Thabo Sefolosha that put the Thunder up by 6 with 36 seconds to go.
Just to clarify, I wasn't trying to criticize the way Durant and Westbrook played tonight, because they were fantastic. Nevertheless, they did miss a few shots in the third, and the Thunder started to lose their stranglehold on the game. But their performance was so great during other periods of the game that it's easy to ignore. Also, I've gotta give a shoutout to Thabo Sefolosha, who really amplified the Thunder offense in the first with some legit shooting. He was excellent in transition as always, and even basically sealed the game with a critical rebound. He was Kevin Martin tonight.
All in all, you have to count this game as a solid victory. There were a few bumps along the road where it really looked like the Nets had their number, but in the end, the Thunder tried to problem-solve, adjusted their gameplan, and emerged comfortably victorious. Yeah, the Nets don't have Brook Lopez, but I don't really think he would have made the difference tonight. Perkins is the perfect defender against the back-to-the-basket type of Lopez, and the Nets main advantage over the Thunder is their three point shooting, which Lopez isn't a part of. He does make a difference, however, against a team like the Heat, who sport some terrible interior defense.
I'm not here to play what if games though. Fact is, the Thunder are a shade away from taking the Western Conference lead, and we have a chance to embarrass the Lakers on Friday. Onward!
Lineup of Death Watch:
Not much to report here, because Brooks utilized the Ibaka plus the bench lineup last night. But they did see some action at the end of the first. It was basically just Martin nailing a jumper, Eric Maynor getting fouled twice, and Andray Blatche killing Hasheem Thabeet in the paint. They ended up with a +/- ratio of +1. Hard to tell anything from tonight, really, but if Maynor can be somewhat of a scoring threat in that lineup like he was tonight, then the lineup wouldn't be such a liability.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, with his most flawless performance of the season.
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, for continuing to go full badger.
Thunder Blunder: Hasheem Thabeet, for getting owned by Blatche in the first.
Thunder Plunderer: Deron Williams, who looked like his former self.
Next Game: Versus the Los Angeles Lakers, Friday, December 7th, 8:30 PM Central Standard Time.
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