Highlights: Durant's 31
So, I'm not gonna lie. This game was only for the basketball hardcore. Personally, if you put me in front of a reasonably skilled game of basketball, I'll always be entertained. Even if one team is outmatched the entire time.
Such was the case for the Utah Jazz. As I mentioned in my preview, they're playing absolutely atrocious basketball right now. I would call it tanking, but all of their players were good to go tonight. The very same players that propelled the team to a 14-13 run mid-season.
I don't know exactly how the Jazz fell so low, but I know that the team I saw tonight wasn't the same team that I saw earlier in the year. Their offense had no player that was willing or able to create their own shot, instead relying completely on the element of surprise. Sure, their offense went up and down throughout the course of the game, but all of their runs seemed to be fueled on effort and just a little bit of luck.
For example, Richard Jefferson managed to score 11 points in three minutes and 28 seconds. I can guarantee you that he'll never replicate that feat again. I'm not saying that to sound cruel about his age, but I am saying it to illustrate a point. There's no way that should have happened. I mean, 9 of those points were virtually unguarded threes in the corner. I don't know how he kept getting open, but according to Caron Butler, the Jazz were using a specific set that caused some issues. Something worth looking into later.
Furthermore, as pointed out by Coach Brooks, the Jazz got the Thunder into the bonus with a whopping 4:41 to go in the third quarter. Since the Jazz are a bunch of paint bruisers, they used the opportunity to charge at the basket constantly. Their success at getting to the line opened up a few shots for them as well. By the time the quarter was over, they had scored 23 points. Yes, 23 points in 4:41. That's just silly.
I really can't remember much else of what the Jazz did. Their offense was mostly a nightmare of brutish post play and silly back door cuts. Defensively, they let the Thunder score too easily off of turnovers and allowed every star to shoot over 50%. Yeesh.
On the Thunder's end, the picture is much more rosy. Despite those few strategic errors that I pointed out, the team basically rolled over the Jazz. Their defense was particularly impressive, only allowing Utah to score 11 points in the first 14 minutes. Generally, they were very good about protecting the rim and forcing the team from SLC to take low percentage mid-range shots.
Why wasn't the defense sustained? Again, I wouldn't read too much into it. It's hard to stay that intense and focused over such a long period of time, and the Jazz had read the standard book on how to beat us. You know, like making us commit defensively at the rim, or swinging the ball so that our gargantuan players can't block their threes.
Offensively, I have nothing to complain about. Jeremy Lamb had a really nice pull-up three, and even Caron Butler managed to go 5-5 from downtown. Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka did their usual thing. Yadda yadda.
Really, the only interesting thing to come out of the Thunder's end tonight was the minutes distribution among players. With Reggie Jackson sitting out the past two games with back spasms, Jeremy Lamb has been given a second chance at life. It appeared for a while that he might be eternally doomed to play mop-up minutes behind Caron Butler, but he's performed admirably in these past two games. In 54 minutes, he's scored 21 points on 8-19 shooting, grabbed 8 boards, and dished 9 assists. Caron Butler, by comparison, has played 51 minutes, scored 21 points on 7-18 shooting, grabbed 5 boards, and dished 4 assists.
Which one is better? At this point, there's no definitive answer. What we do know is that, barring a major change in the universe, Caron Butler will get preference over Jeremy Lamb. Unless the gap is huge, Scott Brooks will always play the veteran first. He continued to play Derek Fisher throughout a couple of horrible late-season campaigns, so I see no reason for him to change now.
The real question is whether Lamb continues to get minutes once Jackson returns.
Actually, scratch that.
The real question is whether Lamb continues to get minutes once Sefolosha and Perkins return.
At that point, you've got 11 viable players on the roster. I'm assuming that Roberson will fall out of the rotation when Sefolosha returns. Obviously, Perk will take Adams' starting spot, but it's hard to see the Thunder kicking him out of the rotation. Thus, we find our dilemma. Fish, Jackson, Butler, and Collison are all going to get minutes. Do you make that bench lineup big, with Adams? That runs the risk of making the lineup horrible offensively. Or do you make the bench lineup small, with Lamb? That runs the risk of losing the rebound battle, as well as interior defense.
Both are intriguing options for sure, but I'm hoping that we'll get to see a bit of both, depending on the situation.
- According to Thunder PR, the Thunder have scored nine threes in twelve consecutive games. Considering how horrible our percentage was to start the season, that's quite the accomplishment.
- Any combination of two Thunder wins or Portland losses will mathematically guarantee the Thunder the Northwest Division title. Woo! (H/T: Darnell Mayberry)
- KD's streak of consecutive 25 point games now stands at 38. TWO away from tying Jordan!
- No, there's still absolutely no news on the Thabo or Perk fronts. Last we heard, Thabo is still traveling with the team, and Perk is participating in "rigorous" individual drills.
- Reggie Jackson sat out tonight with the same mid-back sprain that he's been dealing with. I don't know whether it's a phantom injury or not. But, considering that the Thunder have just played two tanking teams at home with plenty of rest, I'm not that concerned.
- Perry Jones only got garbage time tonight. Odd man out, and it's a shame. He's clearly better than Roberson, but Brooks really doesn't want to throw Jackson, Fisher, Butler, or Lamb into the starting lineup. As a result, he has to play Roberson at shooting guard, because PJIII is too big to play the position. Or maybe Brooks is crazy. One of the two.
- Hasheem Thabeet hit a YOLO jumper in the fourth. Always the highlight of my day!
- Reggie Williams played in his second NBA game this season, scoring on a solid-looking mid-range jumper and missing an open three. He traded garbage time with Lamb at point. I doubt that he's signed for the rest of the year, but it's nice to see him play.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who laughs in the face of full-court pressure
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, who controls his energy with greater focus than Goku
Thunder Blunder: Andre Roberson, offensive hater supreme
Thunder Plunderer: Enes Kanter, who could probably join Nick Collison's "All Hard Work" team
Next Game: Versus the San Antonio Spurs, Thursday, April 3rd, 7 PM Central Daylight Time.