Sometimes, you just have to sit back and appreciate how awesome it is to have one of the game's best closers. Sure, Kevin Durant can get passive at times, and not score with the consistency that you'd like. But he knows exactly when his team needs him, leaving you to wonder why you were worried about losing the game in the first place. I'm not saying his performance was without flaws. He turned the ball over late in the fourth, and missed a jumper that would have won the game. Still, the good outweighs the bad, and he made 7 of the team's last 9 points in regulation.
Russell Westbrook had a stellar performance as well. He took a few errant shots late in the game, but considering some of the utterly amazing shots he was hitting in the first half, I can hardly criticize. He's not a great closer like Kevin Durant is, but the Thunder can hardly do without his bursts of genius.
The problem for the Thunder last night was the pace of the game. The Thunder are talked about as being a good transition team, and in a certain sense, this is correct. When they're on a fast break, they run the floor and find a way to the basket rather easily. But they play poorly when the pace of the game increases. They usually end up turning the ball over or hoisting up a shot against some man to man coverage. The Thunder just don't have enough good ballhandlers and passers to make it work against most teams.
This is especially true when they face a team like the 76ers. Without Andrew Bynum, the only true center on their roster is Kwame Brown, so they spend a lot of time going small. The few big men they do play (Hawes, Allen, Turner) are all generally mobile and able to shoot jumpers. Additionally, their guards have proven to be excellent ballhandlers and passers, making this team very dangerous at spacing the floor. So when the pace of the game increased, they had little trouble finding a set shooter in transition who could knock down the open shot.
Watching this from the average fan's perspective makes it a little bit difficult to comprehend what's happening, because no specific Sixer was killing the Thunder consistently, and no specific Thunder defender was having a bad day. The Sixers hardly shoot free throws or run isolation sets, so no player had the ball in their hands for too long, either. It was just different guys having success at different times.
I know, Young and Turner both had a good number of points, but they were really doing little more than knocking down open shots or exploiting mismatches. There was never a point where you looked at them and thought, "man, how are we gonna stop that guy?". The closest the 76ers came to that thought was probably the late second quarter run of Jason Richardson, when he knocked down three threes in the span of four minutes.
In overtime, though, the Thunder seemingly copied the Sixers' schtick. They went with their small lineup, and were able to spread the floor like the Sixers, with four players almost consecutively hitting threes. The three non-Durant threes were all assisted from Durant. I'd like to highlight Martin's three in particular though, because he was able to nail it after going 1-8 from the floor earlier in the game. His sole field goal before the shot was a layup midway through the second quarter. When you consider that, the three seems impressive. But I also drew a bit of a comparison to James Harden, who, all things considered, wouldn't have made that shot. When Harden had an off-night, he usually had a really tough time recovering from it, and usually would continue to come up flat late in the game. It might be different with his Rocket tenure, I don't know. But Kevin Martin is a guy who knows how to knock down shots when they come, and he doesn't need to shoot himself out of a slump in order to do so.
Looking at the game as a whole, what really won it for the Thunder was their aggressiveness on offense. The Sixers were averaging just under 17 fouls before tonight's contest, making them one of the league's best at avoiding opposing free throws. Tonight, they committed a whopping 28 fouls. One of them was in overtime and three were intentional, but even without those four, they're still 8 over their season average.
Conversely, taking away the four makes in OT, the Thunder were 2-17 from beyond the arc tonight, which is a pretty disastrous number. If they weren't able to force the Sixers into fouling, this wouldn't have even been a close game. Sometimes, determination pays off.
Lineup of Death Watch:
The Lineup of Death (Thabeet, Collison, Sefolosha, Martin, and Maynor) saw some significant minutes at the end of the first quarter last night. They were part of the tail end of a 11-0 run by the Thunder, and finished with an overall +/- of +3. The success of the lineup was due to Nick Collison, who did a great job of scoring against the weak Spencer Hawes in the paint. There were flaws, including a rare offensive foul from Collison and a Kevin Martin travelling turnover. And when you consider that two of the 76ers possessions were wasted with undrafted rookie Maalik Wayns (who has scored a grand total of two points in ten games this year) and that one of the Thunder's points was gifted to them via a Spencer Hawes three second violation, the run looks a little bit less impressive. Still, facts are facts, and the Lineup of Death was far from being a hindrance tonight.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor's 0-4 Shooting
Thunder Plunderer: Thaddeus Young
Next Game: Versus the Charlotte Bobcats, Monday, November 27th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
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