"All I remember coming to the bench was Reggie Jackson screaming I was going to make the last shot. I just tried to be confident and tell myself I can make it and luckily I did."-Kevin Durant
Ah, Kevin Durant. He says it so elequently. In the arena, I remember the body expression he gave before taking the final shot. Head hung in contemplation. Hands on his knees. His mind in a total zone. It didn't espouse the smugness of Kobe Bryant, or the boyish confidence of LeBron James. It was simply KD. He was him, he did him, and he chilled.
Who knows how important this game will be in the context of things? Right now, the Mavericks are 0-3, have endured two blowouts, and have a lot of unanswered questions about who they are. If the dominoes fall in the wrong places, this could be considered a trap game against a weak opponent. But I don't care.
Emotionally, this was the Thunder trumping last year's woes. Who says they can't score in the fourth quarter? Who says they have problems being clutch? Who thinks we're too young to play with more experienced teams? Who says Oklahoma City will never be better than Dallas?
Plus, this game moves the Thunder to 4-0, and leaves them alone atop the NBA standings. I know, it's too early to tell anything, but in five days, the Thunder have beaten last year's trap opponents (Min), last year's champs (Dal), the NBA's best big (Orl), and last year's playoff rivals (Mem). That's pretty good in my book.
Below: Notes About the Actual Game, Awards!
Aside from the shot, this game was a fun one to watch. After the Thunder had gotten off to three really solid starts in their first three games of the season, here there was actually some early drama, as the Thunder were victims of a 11-2 run. Most of the first quarter was spent wittering down that lead, until the game evened out in the second. There were times the Thunder threatened to pull away, but Dallas had no shortage of scorers and always managed to get back into the game.
For Serge Ibaka, this game was a relaxing of concerns. I, for one, was really sick of seeing things wondering if Serge Ibaka was having "emotional problems". A guy doesn't shoot enough shots on a couple of nights, and all of a sudden he has emotional problems? Give me a break. It just took Ibaka a bit to get back into the swing of things, and he chose a hell of a time to do it. His 16 points really helped offset Dirk's 29. I liked how he spent a lot of time on the wings. It both distracted Dirk from drives in the middle of the lane and sent him out of his comfort zone.
The Mavericks are still facing some serious rotation problems. For some reason, Vince Carter and Lamar Odom were punching in less minutes than Ian Mahimni, Delonte West, and Brandon Haywood. I understand that they were struggling, but so was Jason Kidd, who had a 3 assist, 3 turnover night.
James Harden was a legitimate offensive force tonight. Brooks has given him the freedom to call his own plays on the perimeter, much like KD does. Tonight, Harden was able to shoulder Westbrook's offensive load by giving the Thunder someone else to penetrate the paint with. This allowed Westbrook to get off a few more uncontested mid-range jumpers, though his shooting still has a long way to go before it's on last year's level.
Speaking of Westbrook, he's averaging a whopping 6.3 turnovers on the year. To me, it seems like Westbrook gets himself in several ruts throughout the course of a game. Kind of like he'll hit a metaphorical brick wall. During this game alone, he had streaks like so: A foul, two turnovers, a missed FT, and a blocked shot. A bad pass and a missed shot. A charge, a missed jumper, and a stolen ball. We all know Westbrook plays really emotionally, but there's a point between playing with passion and getting into terrible ruts like the 2007 Warriors. There's no reason to charge out to a 10 point lead and then blow it by playing like a bonehead. As long as he chills and doesn't get frustrated, he should be okay.
I'm loving that we can count on a reasonable amount of points from our big men core game to game now. Collison is great about being on the weak side of the lane during a given play and running backdoor cuts to the basket. Perkins is good about battling for garbage points down low, though he was terrible about getting the ball stripped tonight. He'd usually get blocked on the way up because he spent too much time facing his opponents like a guard. Honestly, I'd rather him risk the three second violation by backing his defenders down and looking to fake them out, like Zach Randolph does.
And lastly, I'd just like to give a word about TNT and other news outlets documenting a bit of "disturbance" on the Thunder bench during the match against Memphis. Daily Thunder has done an excellent job of documenting the disturbances on their YouTube channel, and I highly recommend you watch the videos involved. But honestly, it's much ado about nothing. These dudes have played under the same coach for three years now, and they're in the midst of a four game in five night stretch. They had just played in an intense game against Minnesota, and had lost what could have been a game closing lead against Memphis. Plus, Westbrook had been enduring a night without a field goal, which has to be frustrating for a guy who regularly scores over 20. A little bit of aggravation flies. And you know what? The situation was defused, and the Thunder won the game. Big deal. In my opinion, there's just a lot of Westbrook haters out there right now. Just give the guy some time, and he'll go back to his old ways. Don't try to create drama where it doesn't exist. Plus, we all know how the Thunder locker room operates. Just take a look at Kendrick Perkins' Twitter. In any world where that kind of talk goes on, there's bound to be some headbutting.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, You Know How He Do
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, You Know How He Do
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, Offensive 0fer after earlier impressive displays.
Thunder Plunderer: Dirk Nowitzki, 29 Points, 10 Rebounds, 4 Assists
Next Game: Versus the Phoenix Suns, Saturday, December 31st, 7 PM Central Standard Time