Russell Westbrook finished the game with 10 assists and a whopping 8 turnovers. Compared to previous matchups, tonight was a disaster in terms of ballhandling. But you know what? I don't care. Westbrook finally seems to have recovered from the doldrums of passiveness on offense and become the Honey Badger that we all love and appreciate. Sometimes, we don't need the endlessly facilitating Westbrook. We need the aggressive Westbrook, stampeding into the lane, jacking up crazy shots, and generally just not giving a darn.
Why? Well, from a fan standpoint, he made the game a whole lot more watchable. The Thunder have been locked into some ugly and sloppy games lately, so it's refreshing to see him force more of an up and down type of game. Secondly, the Thunder really needed his scoring tonight, since the Cavaliers had the speed and length to keep up with Ibaka in the mid-range. And his turnovers weren't that big of a deal. About half of them were just a product of him getting trapped while the Thunder ran too many pick and rolls, and a few others were some recklessly missed passes. Since the Thunder were trying to increase the pace against the Cavs' bad transition D, more turnovers are going to happen. Still, I wish the offensive playbook was a bit more varied.
On the opposite side, Kyrie Irving was good, but not great. In the half-court, Westbrook guarded Kyrie Irving pretty well, making him not all that effective. The only thing Irving really took advantage of is when Westbrook would try too aggressively for an offensive rebound, forcing a teammate to pick up Irving on the other end. Usually, this resulted in Irving getting an open shot or being able to sneak under the basket.
The contrast between those two can pretty much sum up tonight's game. The Cavaliers were decent, but they weren't great, and when push came to shove, they really couldn't put together a run when they needed it most. However, they were competitive throughout the night.
The Cavaliers high point came at the beginning of the game, as it did on Friday against the Suns. They jumped out to a quick 17-7 lead on the back of some great shooting from Waiters and Irving, along with some surprise post moves from Alonzo Gee. But the Thunder quickly called a timeout and upped the perimeter pressure. The fast break started to flow a little bit, and the Thunder were able to get to the line. By the end of the first, the Thunder had amassed a 6 point lead thanks to a 20-4 run, along with a Kevin Martin jumper.
The second quarter started out with an early Thunder burst, but their defense sagged a bit. Notably, Daniel Gibson was able to have way better of a game than he should have against Kevin Martin, going for 11 in the quarter and fueling a mini-Cavaliers run. The Cavs were also adept at setting each other up, and were able to set each other up quite well. They often lucked into some paint opportunities, since the Thunder were going small at the time. But the Thunder finished strong. Byron Scott subbed out Varejao because he had acquired three fouls, and Ibaka and Perkins made quick work of Jon Leuer in the post.
After the half, the Cavaliers gave the Thunder a real run for their money, pushing the game to one possession on two occasions. The Thunder got a bit too reckless with their transition game, and committed some silly turnovers. Moreover, they were a bit too slow to get back on defense, and that can kill you against a rapid-fire team like the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving had back to back threes, Varejao got two back to back buckets off of offensive boards, and the Thunder committed some stupid fouls. By the end of the third, the Cavaliers had the deficit down to three....
Were it not for the INSANE Westbrook buzzer beater from near half-court! Once Westbrook nailed that, making for his eighth point in 2:03, you knew his swagger was back. He kicked off the fourth with two nailed three pointers, and it was all gravy from there. The Thunder got to the line, Durant starting hitting some tough jumpers, and Byron Scott was playing some inexplicably weak lineups. The last 10 points made by the Cavs were all essentially in garbage time. The Thunder put the pedal to the metal when the situation called for it, and they secured a solid victory.
Getting down to brass tacks, it's clear that the Thunder have changed as a team. With the injury to Hasheem Thabeet, the rotation has been whittled down to 8 guys, with nothing but token minutes given to the defacto ninth man, Perry Jones. All of them are given significant time (except, perhaps, Maynor, who fluctuates based on Westbrook's performance). Sefolosha and Ibaka have both seen large increases in minutes from last year. They've also played more major roles, especially in the offense. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that the team is sticking less responsibility on their stars, and is more willing to function as a unit. And on a night to night basis, this is fantastic news. We all know how teams like the Spurs can rack up huge regular season records because players can cover for each other. However, the Thunder also have the option of sticking with the superstars when things get hairy. And that's a fantastic thing to consider when you're rolling into the playoffs.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, for bringing his fierce side back
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, for being steady as ever
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor, who had a poor shooting night
Thunder Plunderer: Kyrie Irving, for some killer threes in the third
Next Game: At the Detroit Pistons, Monday, November 12th, 6:30 PM Central Standard Time
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