What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Playoff game. That is what tonight felt like. The game was a see-saw affair throughout, and when things finally got tight in the 4th quarter, the level of physical play ratcheted up a few notches. Teams gave hard fouls, big shots were made (and missed), and we even got our first dose of end-of-regulation controversy. To top it off, the game went into overtime where the Thunder prevailed on the road in a very difficult place to play.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
I think that you can divide the Thunder's effort tonight into two separate categories - the basketball part, and the competitive part.
From a basketball standpoint, the Thunder had a very good game plan focus heading into this game. Portland is an outstanding rebounding team, so it was pretty obvious that the Thunder knew that they had to win the rebounding battle if they wanted to compete tonight. There is not much strategy or anything with this kind of focus; it merely comes down to a team committing to the fundamentals of rebounding and then going to get the ball. Most importantly, it kept the Blazers off of the offensive glass (well, at least whenever Marcus Camby was not in the game) and helped the Thunder get out on the fast break (20 fast break points in all).
From a purely competitive perspective, the Thunder won this game because they did not lose their heads when things started to fall apart in the 4th quarter. The Thunder played exceptional defensive ball in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. They appeared to finally figure out Portland's passing lanes out of the post and began to crowd All-Star big man LaMarcus Aldridge (39 points, 3 assists) so that he could neither pivot or kick the ball to open shooters. The situation looked good for the Thunder, but then things began to break down in the 4th. OKC's offense ran cold, and the team went from being up six to down six with only 2:17 to play. The team looked lost and the Blazers were getting stronger. However, the Thunder refused to fold. Kevin Durant, who struggled most of the night shooting the ball (only 15-33 from the field and 2-8 from 3-point range), nailed a huge corner 3-pointer to cut the lead in half. Russell Westbrook then worked his way to the line twice, going 3-4, to tie the game at 101.
After a Jamal Crawford jumper that put the Blazers up by a basket, the stage was set for drama.
At this point in the analysis, there is no way getting around the reality of what happened next. Yes, up to that point the Thunder did well to rebound the ball, stay in the game, and challenge the Blazers on their home court, but if not for the next play, it would not have mattered.
With Durant driving to the rim, Aldridge pretty clearly had a clean block on Durant's layup attempt. Never the less, the referee who was 30 feet away from the rim called a goal tend, which enabled the Thunder to tie the game.
There is not much more that can be said; if the refs got the call right, the Blazers probably would have won. They missed it, and OKC had new life in overtime, an opportunity they would not waste.
What's the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Rebounding. Collectively, these rebounding numbers represent the focus and determination of a team that knew it would have to rebound well to win the game. Here you go:
- Kevin Durant - 7
- Serge Ibaka - 13, 7 offensive
- Kendrick Perkins - 10, 3 offensive
- Russell Westbrook - 11, 5 offensive
- Nazr Mohammed - 7, 1 offensive (in only 11 minutes!)
- Nick Collison - 4, 1 offensive
- James Harden - 4, 1 offensive
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
Tonight was a huge gut-check game for the Thunder after playing poorly last week. While there was certainly still a fair amount of less-than-precise play (19 turnovers, way too many jump shots), OKC committed soundly to playing more attentive defense and rebounding the ball. Unlike against the Clippers or Spurs, the Thunder did a much better job tonight in finding the outside shooters. As a result, the Blazers were held to 42.3% shooting and only 5-20 from the 3-point line.
The Thunder got a gift, but they did not waste that gift in OT. They continued to play strong defense, denied the shooters, protected the rim, and left Portland with a very satisfying performance that came coupled with a win.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook - 28 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka - 12 points, 13 rebounds (6 offensive), 4 blocks, 2 steals
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Durant, but only for his unnecessarily hoisting up 8 3-pointers
Thunder Plunderer: LaMarcus Aldridge - 39 points, 3 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal
Next Game: At the Golden State Warriors, Tuesday February 7, 9:30 PM Central Standard Time