The Thunder fought through turnovers and scoring in lots of unexpected places, but they knew what they had to do to get the W. The Hornets were definitely a formidable match, but they couldn't get points when it mattered the most. I know, it's pretty much the story of their entire season, but it couldn't have rung more true tonight.
Early on, the Thunder were consistently getting inside, and dominating the rebounding game. They did a good job of establishing their dominance early on, and always leaving the lead just out of the Hornets' reach. Serge Ibaka had a particularly impressive quarter, as he dominated the soft Jason Smith and the undersized Carl Landry down low. His offense hadn't really evolved, but he was using the couple plays that worked for him (dunks and cuts). He hit one mid-range shot, but he's not ready to be a full part of our offense yet. I know that Ayon had an impressive game, but the Hornets could have really used Kaman to man up against Ibaka tonight. Kaman was out for a "non-injury related" reason, which could mean he had personal issues....or that he's about to be traded. Only time will tell.
Kendrick Perkins kept Emeka Okafor adequately out of the paint, but Okafor wasn't planning on getting to the rim. Rather, he out-witted Perk with some 7-10 foot shots that Perk just wasn't ready for.
On the other end, Jarrett Jack did a good job of keeping his offense going. Again, he wasn't wowing the Thunder with highlight reel plays like a certain other Hornets point guard would have, but he hit some really nice jumpers. Defensively, Jack shut down Westbrook, but not on his own.
As told to me by J.A. Sherman, the Hornets employed a "delayed trap" on Westbrook that worked for Dallas in the playoffs last year. Basically, they'd give him room in order to make him think the defense was breaking down, but then trap him late in order to not let him get to the basket and give him no options for passing the ball out. The tactic worked well, leading to some embarrassing moments for Westbrook. He fell short on one dunk attempt, clanked another off of the rim, and had another straight up blocked by Trevor Ariza. But, Westbrook was out of control in other areas of the game as well. He lost the ball out of bounds twice, pretty much did it a third time with a horrible bounce pass to Serge Ibaka inside. Additionally, he was a bit too audacious on the fast break, and lost the handle a couple of times.
Below: Westbrook's Resurrection, The Hornets' Offensive Production, Some Amazing Sequences, More Analysis, Awards!
Despite all of this, Westbrook pretty much resurrected his game from the dead late in the fourth, when he scored a couple of key baskets that kept the Hornets from taking the lead. He later re-affirmed the Thunder's lead by getting to the line, and basically turned a bad night into a good one. The whole game pretty much encapsulated his season so far. He's had a few bad games, but the good heavily outweighs the bad.
The Hornets could have had more production at the offensive end, but Marco Bellinelli and Trevor Ariza were borderline useless. Sefolosha was all over Bellinelli, and Ariza just couldn't knock anything down from three. Of course, the Hornets had players step in and alleviate the pain, like Gustavo Ayon, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Carl Landry. But all of those players are limited in scope, and you can count the number of plays the Hornets have drawn for each of them on one hand. They can't be counted on to create for themselves, and they can't force points when it matters.
Reggie Jackson didn't have a perfect night, but he definitely showed some improvement. In fact, he was flashing shades of Eric Maynor. At the end of the first, he stepped in the game and hit a catch and shoot deep 2 at the buzzer. Early in the second, he showed excellent vision on the fast break. When he wasn't called for a foul on the on a layup attempt, he switched gears and passed it to a running Nick Collison for some easy points. Not amazing stuff
Daequan Cook only had 9 points, but man did they come at crucial times. His two threes helped us assert our lead in the third when we most needed it, and his three early in the fourth helped keep us ahead when Ayon was making a run. You just can't underestimate the value of having a hot and cold shooter on your team. Because when he's hot, it can make a huge difference.
Kevin Durant was the one guy that the Hornets just couldn't guard. They had nobody big enough, quick enough, or long enough to take him on. He lost the ball a couple of times, but he actually did a pretty good job of handling the ball when Westbrook was losing his mind. Especially considering that he's 6'10".
One sequence in particular, for me, encapsulated Thunder basketball. Durant was handling the ball, because Westbrook was out of control. He tried to pass it to Sefolosha for an open three, because it had worked on the last play, and Durant was totally covered. He passed it to Sefolosha, but the ball was too high. Sefolosha proceeded to touchpass it to Perk. En route, the ball was stolen by the Hornets and passed up the floor. Al-Farouq Aminu went up for a seemingly easy dunk, but he was blocked by Ibaka, who pushed the ball the other way. The ball found its way back to Perkins back in the post, who dropped the ball in from less than a foot away. The ball went everywhere offensively, but despite the Thunder's problems, our defensive prowess and athleticism bailed us out.
There was no big moment where you knew the Thunder were going to win for sure, but the Hornets made a pretty serious run early in the fourth. Al-Farouq Aminu hit a tough shot at the end of the third to get them within 7, and then Gustavo Ayon started out the fourth quarter on a tear. Carl Landry continued the roll for New Orleans by getting to the line, eventually tying the game. Westbrook responded. Ayon responded with a jumper, but Westbrook fired right back. The Hornets then turned to Grievis Vasquez, who couldn't penetrate the Thunder's defense. Harden had another layup, and the Thunder's lead gradually increased from there.
But if there was one moment where everyone thought the game was over, it was probably when Bellinelli missed a three. The Thunder responded with a Westbrook layup, fueled by a nice Kendrick Perkins pass into the middle of the lane. This put the Thunder up by 6 with four minutes to go, and the Hornets never really threatened the score from then on.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 25 Points, 7 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 2 Steals, 3 Blocks
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 14 Points, 7 Rebounds, 2 Blocks
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, for going 1-6 from the field.
Thunder Plunderer: Jarrett Jack, for overcoming the defense of Westbrook and making some shots he wasn't supposed to.
Next Game: At the Golden State Warriors, Friday, January 27th, 9:30 PM Central Standard Time