This game won't be one written in the history books, but it was yet another solid win for the Thunder. There were a few remarkable moments in this game, such as the first NBA points of the third Mexican NBA player, Gustavo Ayon. We also saw a good game from Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson, whom I included in the title because I always wanted to include "Carldell" and "Squeaky" in the same title. I kind of wanted to throw in "Bellinelli", "Al-Farouq" and "VelJohnson" in there for good measure, but we can't hit grand slams every time we step up to the plate.
The Hornets got off to a excellent start that arguably kept them competitive throughout the entire first half. The Thunder clearly weren't accustomed to dealing with two threats in the post, especially when both of them can shoot. After the deficit got as high as 8-0, Durant sparked the offense with an excellent three point shot, and the Thunder slowly worked themselves back into the game.
The Hornets offense was running like a steam locomotive throughout the first half. Jack and Johnson did a good job of keeping the ball moving, and their teammates did a good job of exploiting the Thunder where it most hurt. There were lots of backdoor cuts, as always. There were also some mid-range jumpers, usually scored right in the face of their Thunder defenders.
As a result, the Thunder were forced to tone up their offense in order to re-gain the lead. Jackson and Harden brought the heat at the beginning of the second, with both of them scoring uncontested threes. Jackson in particular was impressive during this stretch, as he exploited the slower Hornets defense for a couple of east jumpers, much as Russell Westbrook would.
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Once the Thunder were back on even footing, their offense focused on more obtainable baskets, hoping to overcome the Hornets with consistency, rather than firepower. You saw a lot more drives into the lane, resulting in either quick points or a trip to the line. There were also a few more mid-range jumpers, with even Daequan Cook getting into the swing of things, sinking a fadeaway mid-range jumper after a sweet crossover.
The Thunder's main offensive flaw seemed to lie in how focused they were. When they planned on driving the lane, they were going to drive the lane, come hell or high water. Shoot a jumper? Same thing. And when they came into some plays that focused, they failed to see how the Hornets were set up defensively. Like, when there's four Hornets in the lane and a guy wide open in mid-range, is there any reason to barrel into the paint?
Then, in the third quarter, the momentum shift finally came. With the game tied, Bellinelli lost the ball in the back court, and committed a shot clock violation. Kevin Durant hits a jumper. Then, Chris Kaman is blocked by Kendrick Perkins. Kevin Durant runs down the floor for an easy layin. Timeout Hornets, the Thunder are up by 4. From that point on, the Thunder steadily increased their lead, especially after a couple of New Orleans turnovers.
It's pretty obvious that the defense won tonight's game, especially with the final score. Our offense wasn't atrocious by any stretch, but it wasn't great either, as we had really only two consistent options, and not many players were scoring outside of the paint.
Kevin Durant sized up a couple of really long-range threes tonight when the Thunder were on a run. With the scathing review I gave him last night, I suppose you're expecting me to chastise him for it. But I'm not. Even though they came at the same point of the game, here, Durant was totally open, had his shoulders squared, and his feet set. Given his range, the shots were of a very high percentage. In the Grizzlies game, the shots came off of a bad pick from a guard, were taken fading away, and were highly contested. Here, the shots were responsible, both of them went in, and they nearly put the Hornets away.
But the Hornets did stage a comeback at the end of the third. The Thunder missed a couple of shots, and the Hornets started getting to the line. It seemed harmless enough, especially when Nazr Mohammed dunked the ball twice in a row. But after he did so, the Thunder seemed obsessed with getting him the ball for no particular reason. The hornets wised up, went on a run, and would have taken the lead heading into the fourth were it not for two missed Carldell "Squeaky" Johnson freethrows.
James Harden hit three freethrows to start the fourth, and it was downhill for the Hornets from there. They tried a variety of things, like playing small ball in order to create some easy fast break points. But it was all for naught, especially because the Hornets couldn't his the broad side of a barn from beyond the arc.
Then, Westbrook took over the game, scoring on back to back drives, putting the Thunder up by 8. Essentially, that was all she wrote. The Thunder nearly gave up the lead with some sloppy, listless play in the final minutes, but the Hornets were looking no better. The tired Thunder had triumphed once again, finally getting a nice two day break.
With the win, the Thunder move to 10-2, and are 1.5 games ahead of Portland for the Western Conference and Northwest Division lead. They are also currently tied with Chicago for the best record in the NBA. With the loss, New Orleans falls to 3-7, tying them for 13th place in the conference, which is essentially last. They're tied for fourth in the Southwest Division with Houston.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 29 Points, 10 Rebounds, 3 Assists
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, 22 Points, 2 Rebounds, 7 Assists, 3 Steals
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, for going 1-5 from beyond the arc.
Thunder Plunderer: Chris Kaman, 17 Points, 9 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 2 Blocks
Next Game: Versus the New York Knicks, Saturday, January 7th, 7 PM Central Standard Time