Should we feel good about this win? I dunno, it seems kind of like a farce. Setting aside the Derrick Rose talk, the Bulls got an inordinate number of points from their back court, where they really shouldn't have. At the same time, Carlos Boozer looked like a shadow of his former self and was basically forcing shots, while Joakim Noah was hardly included at all.
It just felt like both the Thunder and the Bulls had strange nights. Both teams saw productions from unusual places, and bad offensive performances from their top stars. The Bulls jacked up 15 threes after coming into the game near last in the league in threes attempted. The Thunder threw out small lineups after staunchly refusing to in the first four games, and didn't use Perk in the fourth quarter. But, perhaps most stunningly of all, both teams finished with 20 turnovers or more, making for one heck of a sloppy contest.
Fortunately, the Thunder managed to come out on top. And any casual observer will tell you that the main reason for that was Durant's great end of game scoring, which he definitely deserves credit for. He had 8 points in the last three minutes, including a game-sealing shot in the final 30 seconds. But, aside from the final shot, KD was working well within the offense, and relying on other players to get him free. He didn't try to force tough shots inside, knew where his range was, and knew just how much he had to throw off his opponent. All marks of a true closer.
The casual observer also might tell you that Russell Westbrook was a huge part of this win, and he was. His passing wasn't brilliant, but he was enough of a threat to draw the defense and kick. He also had a couple of nice passes to KD in the lane off of simple pick and rolls, along with a excellent pass on a 4-2 fast break to Thabo Sefolosha. Of course, most importantly, he dumped it to KD on the baseline for the shot that put the Thunder up by four with just a minute to go.
But, if you take a look at the game in a greater context, I think that Westbrook and Durant weren't as big of factors as you think they were. We couldn't have won the game without them, for sure, but there were two other unsung heroes tonight.
One of those heroes has to be Serge Ibaka. The man did it all. He hit open jumpers while the paint-focused Carlos Boozer looked on. He hustled for offensive boards that led to easy putbacks. He hit one of his newly patented corner threes. Hell, once, he even faked out Carlos Boozer and took the ball straight to the rack. Defensively, he was a great help defender, forcing the Bulls out onto the perimeter. He was also great at limiting Carlos Boozer, who looked like he was forcing up shots and struggling all night. Oh yeah, he had almost half of the Thunder's first quarter points. You can't ask for a better performance from this man.
Though Thabo Sefolosha's performance was noticeably quieter than Ibaka's, he was definitely a huge factor in tonight's win. Why? Well, you had Thabo's usual hustle, as he stole a couple of key balls late, rebounded it, and stayed offensively efficient. But most of all, it was watching him defend ten times more effectively than Kevin Martin.
And yes, Kevin Martin totally stunk it up on defense today, especially in the fourth. His offense was as good as ever, but the guy couldn't guard a scarecrow. I mean, Derek Fisher was limited physically, but at least he was smart and had lots of cunning tricks to help him out. Kevin Martin seems to fall for the same stuff every time. Let me put it to you this way. With 6:11 left in the game, K-Mart was assigned to guard Luol Deng. Deng destroyed him immediately for five points. He then switched to Rip Hamilton, who immediately scored 4 points. Then, thankfully, he was put on Kirk Hinrich, who very nearly shook him anyway. Moments later, Sefolosha stole the ball from Deng, and we were all reminded why he's in the lineup.
No, I'm not going to cry in my Cheerios because James Harden is gone. At this point, it's looking like he was a better defender than K-Mart, but only slightly. I still remember Harden getting destroyed by bigger opponents and occasionally losing guys into the paint. But Martin....man, he looked like nothing more than a warm body out there. Still, as tonight's game proves, it is possible to cover up for him while using his advantages.
While we're on the negative, I'd just like to say until the final moments of the game, the offensive output from Durant and Westbrook was rather unremarkable, given their previous matchups. Durant wasn't inefficient, but he wasn't too involved either, and I distinctly remember him missing a lot of makeable open mid-range shots. Westbrook, however, was actively working to undo all of the good his passing game did him. He shot a horrendous 7-22 (32%) from the field, took only one free throw, and just couldn't get any sort of shot going. Given his lackluster and often undersized defensive opponents tonight in Hinrich and Robinson, it's really discouraging to see him performing so badly in that respect.
Even with Martin's terrible D, it's looking more and more like a small ball lineup is the Thunder's best shot at winning most games. Perkins has been nearly invisible since the start of the season, and Ibaka has emerged as an offensive option. Given this development, it just makes sense to have Thabo out there, so he can provide you with some defensive tenacity and smart offensive decision-making.
On a sillier note, Hasheem Thabeet is clumsier than I am. Twice he pretty much solidly had the ball on the baseline but fumbled it out of bounds because he tripped over his own feet. He also sprained his ankle, which could be a complete disaster. All the Thunder have to replace him at the moment is training camp invite Daniel Orton.While we're here, I should mention that Eric Maynor had a pretty legit three from way downtown, and I'm pretty sure he has the green light to take at least one crazy shot a game.
In any case, just because it was a weird night doesn't mean that it wasn't a great win. The Thunder could have and should have won by more, but every team has down nights, and all that matters in the end is how you close out. The Thunder are still playing sluggishly, to be sure, but I don't believe that this team is any more seriously flawed than it was a year ago. And they've got three easy games coming up (Detroit, Cleveland, Detroit) where they can work all of the kinks out.
In other words: relax. Life is good. Enjoy the ride, and retribution comes November 28th.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant. The closer is the closer is the closer.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, offensive wonder.
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins, with a -14 +/- rating.
Thunder Plunderer: Luol Deng, whose 27 points are the most he's had since March 22nd, 2011.
Next Game: Versus the Detroit Pistons, Friday, November 9th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.