What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Last night's game was one of those life affirming moments that reminds me that no matter how star-driven the NBA is, at the end of the day stars need teammates to help them win games. As we knew going into the game against the Warriors, clubhouse leader and starter Kendrick Perkins would be out and Kevin Durant was questionable. We knew that there might be opportunity for the Thunder bench to get some good meaningful minutes tonight, and that is what happened.
I don't know if coach Scott Brooks foresaw a need to get some of his bench players like Royal Ivey and Cole Aldrich into games because of the high risk of injury during this shortened season, but because he did earlier this week, Ivey and Aldrich were ready to contribute early on in the game. As a result, the Thunder played some excellent ball on both ends of the court and overwhelmed a team that had previously played them tough twice earlier this season.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
I think that the Thunder did a great job tightening up their perimeter defense against the Warriors. As you probably recall, Monta Ellis went wild against the Thunder last time out to the tune of 48 points. But on top of that, the combination of perimeter players Stephen Curry, Brandon Rush, Dorell Wright, and Klay Thompson also played well in contributing on the offensive end.
Last night, the Thunder did an outstanding job guarding both Ellis and Curry, holding the duo to a combined 22 points on 8-26 shooting while turning the ball over four times. Russell Westbrook, Daequan Cook, Reggie Jackson, and Royal Ivey all did a great job keeping the two in front of them to prevent the drive, while challenging the jump shots on the perimeter. It appears that the insertion of Ivey into the rotation is paying dividends for the perimeter defensive focus, so hopefully that trend will continue.
Consider that in the previous game against Golden State, the Warriors had two quarters where they scored at least 35 points. In Friday's game, the Warriors' quarter-by-quarter results were 24-24-16-22.
What is the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
I think the game was really decided in the 2nd quarter when the Thunder bench did a great job keeping the team in the game, reminding us of last year's highly competent OKC 2nd unit. The quarter started off with Warriors sharp-shooter Brandon Rush nailing a corner 3-pointer to push the lead to seven, but then over the course of the next six minutes James Harden, Nick Collison, and Cole Aldrich did a great job contributing on offense. By the time Kevin Durant re-entered the game, the team was only down by two points, the bench having prevented the aggressive Warriors from building on their lead.
When Collison hit a twisting-and-turning layup to give his team the lead at 40-39 with 4:31 to go in the 2nd, OKC never trailed again and never looked back. In a quarter where OKC started out down 4, they finished up 10 at the half. It was a tremendous turn-around and the Warriors never recovered.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
This game shows positive growth both from an overall defensive focus as well as what the Thunder bench is capable of offering. Because of these two elements, the possibly-still-ill Durant did not have to be a game-saver in the end and Westbrook was able to pick his spots and play a very controlled game. Harden was probably the best player on the court, but even he only had to log 30 minutes of playing time to help the Thunder control the game in the second half. The rest of the bench simply did their jobs competently and it was sufficient to help the team coast to victory. The lone blemish on their overall offensive performance was probably Cook, who once again did not shoot well and it looked like his minutes went to Ivey. Hopefully he does not get discouraged, but realizes that he's got some competition for the off-guard position so he needs to keep focusing on the defensive end.
Aside from that, the Thunder once again struggled in keeping the Warriors off the offensive glass. Golden State grabbed a staggering 22 offensive rebounds (1 more than their defensive total!) and was the only reason they were able to stay competitive. We will need to go back and look more closely at how GS accomplished this feat, because it seems like it is a trend whenever they play the Thunder. Interestingly, it is not even as if the Warriors are a good rebounding team like the Bulls; for some reason though they just know how to control the glass against OKC.
Hopefully by Sunday the Thunder will be back at almost full-strength when they invite Denver into the Chesapeake for a key showdown between division rivals.
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, 25 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, 23 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, 1 point off of 0-2 shooting
Thunder Plunderer: David Lee, 25 points, 6 rebounds
Next Game: vs the Denver Nuggets, Sunday February 19, 7:00 PM Central Standard Time