The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Detroit Pistons in another fine exhibition of November basketball by a score of 105-94. In a game best described as "over," the Thunder struggled in most aspects of the game on the night as they tussled with a winless team that is statistically one of the worst in the league. The Thunder allowed the Pistons to stay competitive in this game much longer than they should have, but in the end Detroit simply did not have enough offensive firepower to upset the listless Thunder squad.
How big a difference is there in talent between the Thunder and the Pistons? Let me be clear - the Thunder played poorly tonight, and yet they still won by double digits and shot 53.5% from the floor and never looked too stressed about the outcome.
The Thunder were led by Serge Ibaka, who scored 25 points on 9-13 shooting while grabbing 6 rebounds and blocking 3 shots. Kevin Durant followed suit with a very quiet 25 points, but made his presence known by grabbing 13 rebounds on the night and thankfully only committing 3 turnovers. Eric Maynor once again was a key in the Thunder's win, scoring 13 points and handing out 3 assists against zero turnovers in 18 minutes of play.
The Pistons were led by Andre Drummond, who had a team-high 22 points on 8-10 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds on the night. Tayshaun Prince chipped in with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
At some point, the Thunder offensive system will kick in. I know it will. For the time being however, we will have to continue to endure grind-it-out wins like the one we witnessed tonight. With all due respect to the Pistons faithful, they simply do not have the talent to contend with the likes of what OKC has to offer. And yet, this was a 6 point game with just under 9 minutes to play in the 4th. The Thunder gave the Pistons far too many extra possessions that enabled them to stay competitive. We are a clanging symbol at this point, but the surefire way for a good team to lose to a bad team is by carelessly turning the ball over and giving up offensive rebounds. The Thunder had 16 turnovers on the night and gave up 16 offensive boards on the night (6 by Drummond alone), and as a result the Pistons had 16 extra shots at the rim.
Fortunately, the Pistons were not able to convert on their 16 extra attempts, shooting only 41.4% on the night, and the Thunder did just enough on defense to make the Pistons shoot far more jump shots than they should.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Aside from advantages in pure talent almost across the board, the Thunder were able to hold on because they got timely contributions from Durant, Ibaka, and Maynor while not totally giving away the game.
Ibaka was the most consistent scorer on the night, and we can actually see his confidence grow by the game. If ever there was an scoring vacuum vacated by the Harden trade, Ibaka is proving to be more than capable of making up the difference between Harden and Kevin Martin. Ibaka scored both inside and outside, and while Scott Brooks' calling for Ibaka to shoot 3-pointers still makes me cringe, the post offense made up for it. Ibaka has a tremendous shooting touch from all areas of the court, but in the past he would often either rush his shot or wait too long to get a clean look. In the past few games however he has shown better rhythm as he catches and shoots, and the result is that his shooting percentage has skyrocketed to almost 53% from the floor.
Maynor also had his second solid game in a row, and hopefully he has shaken off most of the rust accumulated during his inactivity all of last year. Even though it is obvious that 3rd string PG Reggie Jackson has superior athleticism, Maynor consistently has shown that he is the perfect pace antidote for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook again struggled with his offensive game, scoring only 10 points on 3-10 shooting on the night. Conversely, Maynor shot 5-6 from the floor and scored 13 points in only 18 minutes of play, helping to keep the Pistons always at arm's length from the Thunder lead.
Which is not to say that Westbrook had a bad game, per se; in fact, I was rather impressed by what Westbrook did on the night. As opposed to his bad offensive night yesterday evening against the Bulls, Westbrook showed much greater control and restraint against the Pistons. He took only 10 shots on the night, showing much better discretion when it was obvious that again his shooting touch was off line. Instead, he reined in his game so that his team did not have to survive numerous reckless forays to the rim and errant jump shots. He has hopefully realized that he is struggling, and by playing too aggressive while struggling he makes it far too easy for lesser teams to guard the talented Thunder offense.
In all, the Thunder backcourt was exactly what it needed to be. It was not all-star level, but a combined 8-15 shooting for 23 points and 9 assists against only 3 turnovers is solid winning basketball from the PG spot.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The Thunder actually had an inside game tonight. The offense was of course led by Ibaka's 25 points, but what might have gone unnoticed was the fact that Kendrick Perkins seems to have finally woken up. Perkins has been practically MIA through 5 games and without knowing any inside information, my guess is that he is still dealing with recovery from his injuries. His stat line on the night was not exactly eye-popping, as Perkins scored 8 points and grabbed only 6 rebounds. However, what was impressive was the way he was setting up his more talented front-court mate. Perkins had just enough offense on the night, including a medium range jumper and a drive to the rim, that it kept the defense honest against him. In return, Perkins used some adept high/low post play with Ibaka and the result was that Perkins had a team-high 6 assists on the night. In all, the Thunder scored 40 points in the paint, and Perkins' play was a big reason why.
To be sure, the Thunder are never going to be a post-up team, but they need to be good enough to keep defenses honest so that Durant and Westbrook have room to operate. Both Durant and Westbrook have struggled to get comfortable in this team's offense, but if they are patient with Ibaka's blooming inside game, in the near future those seams and lanes into open spaces are going to start opening up.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
It is another game in the 'W' column, and for that we are thankful. While the outcome was never truly in doubt, we the spectators were certainly hoping to see a win along the same vein as the Lakers' destruction of the Pistons.
Just remember though that this game was the second leg of a back-to-back, and a game following a grueling battle against the tough Chicago Bulls in Chicago. OKC will play better, so for now let us be thankful that they finished the back-to-back games 2-0 and look forward to Sunday's game against the Cavs.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, 25 points on 8-12 shooting, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks.
Thunder Down Under: Eric Maynor, 13 points on 5-6 shooting, 3 assists in only 18 minutes.
Thunder Blunder: Nick Collison, who scored only 3 points while picking up 5 fouls in 19 minutes.
Thunder Plunderer: Andre Drummond, 22 points and 8 rebounds off the bench.
Next game: vs the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 11, at 6PM CDT
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.
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