What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Strange game. For a good portion of the first half and the majority of the third quarter the 76ers really abused the Thunder defensively. Some might blame the Thunder's early struggles on rust, but credit has to be given to Philadelphia -- they've played fantastic defense all season and there's no reason to believe that just because they were playing the hometown Thunder tonight that all of a sudden it was just inability or laziness.
Still, when we got to the fourth quarter, the script completely flipped. The Thunder became the defensive juggernaut and the 76ers couldn't throw a brick into the Atlantic. With some timely Kevin Durant scoring, the Thunder were able to get back into the game and eventually regain the lead. Though free throw trouble threatened the very edge they had fought so hard to regain, the 76er's failure to convert on key possessions ultimately did them in.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won/lost?
It's true that the 76ers struggled to make a shot in the final minutes of the game, but just as we can't rule the Thunder's early struggles out because of rust, we also can't blame the 76er's late inefficiency solely on one team. The Thunder played stellar defense down the stretch, nearly holding Philadelphia scoreless in the final 5 minutes.
The Thunder also had a strong rebounding edge, which was lead mostly by Russell Westbrook's 13 boards (7 offensive). Westbrook also had a rebound off a Kevin Durant missed free throw late in the game that frosted the win away.
Though the Thunder were dominant in rebounding all game, they didn't take advantage of their opportunities early on. Despite more than doubling Philadelphia in rebounds, the Thunder shot poorly, mostly because Philadelphia did a good job of forcing the ball back out to the perimeter on offensive rebounds and limiting fast breaks on defensive ones.
What is the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
It's simple, the Thunder nearly held the 76ers without a field goal in the last 5 minutes of the game. Whether you want to believe it was Oklahoma City snatching victory from the jaws of defeat or Philadelphia choking it off, you can't deny that this was the key stretch in the game. In the last five minutes of the game, the 76ers scored only 4 points, three coming from an Andre Igoudala shot from beyond the arch with less than 10 seconds remaining. Before that, the 76ers had missed their last 11 shot attempts.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
First of all, it proves the team can play good defense -- great defense even -- when it really needs to. Though this isn't necessarily critical down the stretch, it will be crucial for a team that has dreams of the Finals. If you want to extend your season deep into the summer, you need to learn to grind it out against the conference elites, whoever those teams turn out to be.
Secondly, it's good to start your journey down the second half of the season with a win. A loss, and you may start to think back to your time off and how much better that was than losing. With a win, however, and you can take your mind pedicures and refocus on preserving your place atop the Western Conference.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook: 22 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive), 4 assists, 7 turnovers, and magical game-clenching rebound off the missed free throw.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant: 23 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers
Thunder Blunder: Reggie Jackson: 2 points, 1 assist, 1 rebound, 1-8 shooting in 11:51 of play
Thunder Plunderer: Andre Igoudala: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Next Game: Thursday at the Orlando Magic, 7:00 PM Central Standard Time