What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Thunder overcame a frustrating setback Thursday night to finish up a challenging road trip by winning in Utah. Road trips are always difficult, even for a team as athletic and youthful as the Thunder. They have played six out of their seven February games on the road and with the win on Friday finished the five game road trip at 3-2.
Not surprisingly, the Thunder looked pretty gassed coming out of the gates in Utah. Once again their defense was weak in the first quarter, where they gave up 30 points once more. The team did not look disinterested or distracted, just physically drained.
And then they won the 2nd quarter, 22-14, setting the tempo for the rest of the game. What happened?
In thinking about the game, oddly enough I kept coming back to a story I read some time ago about Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, of all people. Artest was giving an interview and was discussing his attitude towards defending different types of players. Artest is a workout fiend, and he said that against certain guys, he would actually intentionally work out extra hard before taking the floor. His rationale was that if he showed up to the game too hyped up, too energetic, his over-aggressive physical play would actually become more of a hindrance than a help. So he would essentially wear himself down a little bit before he engaged, in a sense to take some of his edge off before going into battle.
In a similar fashion against the Jazz, the Thunder were noticeably less aggressive in the game. However, just like Artest's weariness would help him concentrate, the fatigued Thunder seemed to play with much better focus, played more conservatively, took less risks, and as a result walked their way to the win. To be sure, there were still some of the recurring issues that came to bear such as nine turnovers in the 1st half (15 for the game), but what was absent was the frenetic on-the-edge-of-chaos vibe that we saw against the Kings. OKC systematically and methodically allowed their inherent talents to eventually overcome a competent but overmatched Jazz team.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
This is probably the first time I'm going to write this sentence, but the big reason why the Thunder won is because of the offense of their big men. A game after the Thunder bigs scored a combined 11 points against the Kings, the combination of Serge Ibaka (16 points), Kendrick Perkins (10 points), Nazr Mohammed (6 points), and Nick Collison (4 points) brought 36 points of production against the Jazz.
The Utah offensive game operates from the inside out, where they rely heavily on Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to produce. The Thunder big men more than held their own against this pair, which effectively neutralized Utah's inside advantage. Once the Thunder were able to counter the Jazz interior, their perimeter combination of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden overwhelmed the Jazz's remaining perimeter threats.
What is the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Apart from the much more patient and deliberate way of going about things, the Thunder again did a great job rebounding the ball. Utah is a decent rebounding team, currently ranked 10th in the league, but the Thunder had no trouble in winning this key battle. In total, the Thunder out-rebounded the Jazz 46-36 and 10-6 on the offensive glass.
Ibaka in particular continues his strong run of play. In thinking back to the beginning of the season, it is remarkable how Ibaka has found his groove and is now impacting all aspects of the game. He grabbed six offensive rebounds by himself and was constantly active around the rim. When Ibaka is engaged on both ends of the court, the complexion of the Thunder changes completely.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder finally get to go home and start working toward another string of wins. They get the Jazz at home next Tuesday night and have six of their next seven games at home before the All-Star break comes.
This string of games that the Thunder have played showed us a lot of things about the team, some positive and some negative. Fortunately it is still early in the season with plenty of time to correct the negatives. Friday night was a great start.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 28 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 16 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, only 1-9 from 3-point range
Thunder Plunderer: Al Jefferson, 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists
Next Game: vs the Utah Jazz, Tuesday February 14, 7:00 PM Central Standard Time