What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
There is no possible way that I can try to recap this game.
Tonight's Thunder win over the Nuggets was simply everything that you could love about basketball. It was one of those moments when you could say without fear of stating something hackneyed that it was a tragedy that a team had to lose, and I know that there were at least four to five occasions when I said to myself, "It's a shame OKC is going to lose this game." That feeling, more than anything else, is what made this game special. It was the fact that Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka played the games of their lives and yet were on the cusp of losing anyway to a short-handed team. And then, they figured out a way to win.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
If you had to condense this insanely entertaining game into something succinct, it would have to be the final minute of regulation. With the score tied at 106, Ty Lawson hit a back-breaking 3-pointer to put the Nuggets up by three. Durant tried to answer at the other end, but missed a tough but makable shot. Denver grabbed the rebound, got fouled, and hit the two subsequent free throws to go up by five. It was precisely at that moment when I thought, "as great as Durant was tonight, sometimes the other team is just a little bit better." That was it. I was done. I had resolved that with only 43 seconds to go and a five point deficit, Denver was about to send a huge message to their division rivals.
And then OKC collectively said, "this is how we do." Daequan Cook missed an open 3-pointer, but then Westbrook grabbed a "Russell Westbrook" rebound, the kind where you can visibly see that he just determines that he's going to get the ball back. He swung the ball out to Durant at the top of the key, and Durant calmly stroked his 5th 3-pointer of the game.
In Denver's following possession, the Thunder defense did a great job limiting the Nuggets to a contested 3-pointer by Lawson, which rimmed out and settled into the arms of Cook, and a timeout was called. The Thunder had seven seconds and one more chance to keep the game alive.
The Thunder were able to get the ball into Durant on their final possession. Because Durant was 5-5 from 3-point range, the Nuggets had to respect a 3-point shot that would win it for the Thunder. For the first time that I can remember, Durant played the situation almost perfectly. Instead of forcing a contested 3-pointer, he drove hard to his left, beat his man, and dunked the ball to tie the game and send it to overtime.
Just like that, everything changed. The game went from, "too bad OKC is going to have to lose this," to, "Durant is not going to let them lose." Durant reached a new level tonight, and we all got to see it happen.
What is the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
No one statistic can truly tell you how great this game was, but if you look across the box score (linked above), you can get a sense as to why OKC vs Denver has become so compelling to watch. They play well against each other because they have a great contrast in styles. Denver gets amazing production from eight or nine guys, and the Thunder are led by their stars. It is the classic contest of star player versus star system, and it takes both sides playing well to make it work.
That said, there ARE some amazing statistics. With Durant scoring 51 and Westbrook scoring 40, the duo combined for 91 points, which is more points than six other teams that played tonight. To try and put that combination into some historical context, my immediate thought as it played out was, "This is some Jordan-Pippen stuff right here." Only it isn't. To the best of my knowledge, I only know of a single game where Jordan and Pippen each had more than 40 points. This game by Durant and Westbrook was something else entirely (maybe only the dynamic duo of Kobe Bryant and Smush Parker can still have room to boast).
Lest we forget, Serge Ibaka posted his first career triple double, finishing with 14 points, 15 rebounds (8 offensive), and 11 BLOCKS. That makes it the third time in the month of February that Ibaka has had at least 10 blocks in a game. As was noted before, a 10 block game is as rare as a 56 point game. Ibaka came up just as huge as anybody tonight.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder will barely have time to celebrate this win, because they are back in action tomorrow night when they host the New Orleans Hornets. The Thunder beat the Hornets earlier this season, but they are a resilient bunch and most recently knocked off the Jeremy Lin-led Knicks.
How do you follow up a game like this one though? I don't think you can. What the Thunder have to do though is not suffer a letdown at home against the Hornets. The best and only thing they can do to immortalize tonight's masterpiece is to win again tomorrow.
Thunder Wonders: Kevin Durant, 51 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, Russell Westbrook, 40 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 block, only 2 turnovers
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 14 points, 15 rebounds, 11 blocks, 1 steal
Thunder Blunder: Thunder Bench, outscored 53-17
Thunder Plunderer: Andre Miller, 21 points, 10 assists
Next Game: vs the New Orleans Hornets, Monday February 20, 7:00 PM Central Standard Time