We're not proud of it, but, we did it. All that matters is the W. Despite playing horribly against one of the league's worst teams, the Thunder managed to pull together and keep the lid on their victory in the final minutes.
The game, overall, was just sloppy. It's not the worst game I've ever seen (the Warriors-Lakers game later in the night might qualify for that distinction), but nothing seemed to click. Neither team could go on a big run either way, and the Thunder's lead was just kind of stuck in the single digits most of the time, waiting to be pounced on. The defense on both sides would get outright confused sometimes, failing to pick up a defender on a fast break, making the wrong switch, or just utterly failing to get a defensive board. Both teams handled the ball poorly, combining for 31 turnovers, and the Pistons threw up a whole lot of bricks.
What really kept the Pistons in the game early on was some terrible shooting by the Thunder. They finished the first quarter 6-23 from the floor, with Westbrook's 0-5 start being a large culprit. Two of those were just dumb contested transition jumpers before the offense was set, while the others were tough shots in the lane. It seems like he's just got a mental roadblock right now, and hasn't been varying his moves enough to be successful.
In the second, Eric Maynor really lit the game up, and pushed the Thunder to a tenative lead. Interestingly, all of his points were deep jumpers that he worked for off of the ball, save for a crazy floater in the lane. Unfortunately, the Thunder could never really break away. They had 7 turnovers in the second quarter, 5 of which were horrendous passing miscues. All of them came after Eric Maynor had left the game. The second quarter also saw Perry Jones and Reggie Jackson see some rare minutes during the Maynor run.
At first, it looked like the Thunder might actually close the door on this game in the third, when an Ibaka explosion pushed the Thunder lead to 13. Unfortunately, Lawrence Frank finally hit the Pistons' panic button. For the first time this season (no joke!) he put Greg Monroe and lottery pick Andre Drummond on the floor together.
The combination was brutally effective. Monroe and Drummond easily outsized Collison and Ibaka, but they were also very quick, and did a good job of attracting the defense to one side of the floor and taking advantage of the weak side. Overall, team passing improved, and the Pistons brought the game to within 3.
But the dream was short lived. The Thunder eventually went on a 11-1 run, helped out by Sefolosha's defensive intensity, an increased offensive pace, and having Maynor on the floor to distribute the ball instead of Westbrook. For those of you thinking I'm Westbrook hating, the stats speak for themselves. Maynor was +14 while playing with mostly backups, and Westbrook was -4 playing with mostly starters. The icing on the cake was giving Drummond a short rest, which really opened up the paint for the Thunder.
The Pistons kinda sorta made a small comeback late in the fourth, but it never got any more serious than 9 points apart. Regardless, the Monroe Drummond connection was quite effective, and had they been used in conjunction more often in this game, who knows? We could be lamenting about a terrible Thunder loss right now.
But the story of the game, and indeed, the season, has to be Serge Ibaka. By now, we all know the story on this man's shooting ability. When he's left open, he's spot on, and I've seen him knock down contested looks as well. He knows how much space and length he has, so he hardly ever hesitates, like a Collison or Sefolosha might do. Considering how three years ago I wouldn't have trusted him with the ball at all, his evolution has been nothing short of amazing. The stories of him working on his game constantly while the rest of the stars haven't hit the gym yet must really be true.
Of course, Ibaka was a madman on the boards as well. He straight up hustled for some tough boards down low, and seemed to know exactly how to fake two or three guys out in the paint so he could dink in a close layup. His defense was superb as ever, and I don't really blame him for the 5 fouls. The Pistons like banging around in the paint, and with as active as he was being down there, a lot of them were unavoidable.
Of the flip side, Russell Westbrook has really been struggling. He had some nice assists and took care of the ball against the Bulls, but even that wasn't there for him tonight. It's hard to describe, but he just seems to be lacking that extra hustle. A lot of his actions look forced. He isn't getting to the spots he likes, he constantly makes bad decisions, and there's just no really awesome-looking crazy Honey Badger layups. I'm just....at a loss, right now. Is there anything we can do for you, Russ? Some new glasses, perhaps?
Another big reason for the struggle has to be Kevin Martin. I'm not really looking to unload blame on him, because every scorer has a bad night, and there were still some impressive plays. But he forced a few that he probably shouldn't have, and 2-9 from three can really kill a team. Kevin Durant continued to do his thing, scoring a quiet and efficient 25 points.
On the Pistons side, things might look grim, but if I were Lawrence Frank, I'd start Drummond over Maxiell immediately. Yeah, he's a rookie, but what does the team have to lose? Maxiell is normally decent, but he's not a good defensive rebounder and only an okay scorer.
But beyond those two, the team looks baad. All of their guards chuck the ball up a lot, and they try to draw fouls far too often. The only reason that they stayed in this game, aside from their post pair, was the additional opportunities their offensive rebounding created and the Thunder's silly turnovers. All I've got to say is that I really feel for Pistons fans. It's gonna be a long year.
We face them again on Monday. Strangely, they will be wearing their home uniforms again, because o
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, the jumpshooting wonder
Thunder Down Under: Eric Maynor, the best off-ball PG ever
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, who's lost his mojo
Thunder Plunderer: Andre Drummond, who looks like a super solid pick at #9
Next Game: Versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday, November 11th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.