The great thing about this game was the fact that the Thunder won it inside the paint. They didn't have to use their bigs as merely stopgaps that stemmed the tide while the guards tried to shoot their way to victory. Instead, the Thunder went toe-to-toe with Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap, and Enes Kanter.
I know that on paper, it looks like the Jazz bigs did a good job. And in terms of statlines, they did. But in terms of the overall scheme of the game, they weren't that effective. Perkins was able to move Jefferson into the paint on defense and make him pay around the rim. Serge Ibaka was able to clear space in the lane with the threat of his range, and he had some key blocks defensively. To see him and Perkins work together on the other end against post-oriented bigs is a sight to see, as they cover for each other's weaknesses. Perk will always man up against guys in the post, and sometimes he'll let his defender get by because he knows Ibaka is skying for a block. Perk will be willing to meet with guards on the floor. And heck, even Nick Collison works well with these two, knowing how to take a charge while possessing the presence of mind to rarely let a shooter get open.
I know it feels like I'm rambling uncontrollably right now, but the point is, while the Jazz bigs outscored the Thunder bigs and had better statlines, it was the overall things the Thunder bigs were able to do for the offense and defense of the team that really determined this victory. Their new-found presence around the rim gave them the ability to kick out to the perimeter when needed on offense, and it kept the Jazz from getting easy points on defense, forcing them to rely on the sometimes streaky jumpers of Kanter and Jefferson.
But I think the most important factor in the Thunder's win tonight was their ability to keep the Jazz away from the line. The Jazz are the league's fourth best team when it comes to getting to the line, and it's a big part of their offense. But the Thunder played hard defense in the lane without fouling, and forced the Jazz to keep shooting jumpers. It's kind of hard to quantify how this happens, but I'd say it was a combination of good help defense and staying with your assignment on the perimeter.
However, there was a slight problem with the Thunder's performance....
"Our team hasn't been here long enough to have many traditions, but we do have the standing up one, and the one where we always leave 3 point shooting teams wide open beyond the arc."
The quote above perfectly illustrates where I think the Thunder failed tonight. I know, the Jazz shot horribly from beyond the arc in general. But it felt like at key points in the game, whenever the Thunder were about to take a big lead, they just left the Jazz open for a three, because they were trying too hard for a steal. This game flowed so well that it was moreso about big defensive stops than it was offensive plays, and I feel like if the Thunder toned down their pressure just a tad, we would have been able to take a commanding lead a lot sooner. Considering the great win though, I feel like I'm picking at scabs. And I know, their pressure might have contributed to keeping the Jazz off of the line, but it still doesn't excuse some of the gimme shots the Jazz were getting.
There was one moment where if felt like the game had finally come firmly into the Thunder's grasp, and you can watch it in the video below, yo:
I don't really understand the call there. From where I was sitting, it looked like Westbrook had straight up thrown Earl Watson across the court. Looking at it closely, I guess you could say that the contact was all body, and that Earl Watson had tried to grab Westbrook on his way down. But really, if I were calling it, I'd say that was a reach-in.
Regardless, the play was awesome to watch, and not only because it was a cheap way to get Perkins 5 assists. It encapsulated the degree of hustle and physicality that had been present for the Thunder throughout the entire game. Afterwards, Ty Corbin's technical gave the Thunder a free throw which put them up by 10. The Jazz scored right after that, but it was clear that the momentum was in the Thunder's favor. They started getting really dirty in the post and scoring at will while the Jazz kept gambling with jumpers. Before you knew it, time had ran out.
I know I've spent time commending the front line, but I've also gotta give a big shoutout to Russell Westbrook. I know, his shooting was pretty terrible, all things considered. He forced up a lot of shots he shouldn't have, and really seemed dead-set on getting to spots and shooting it in the face of the defender. But in every other area, he was totally awesome. He used speed to his advantage against the older Jazz guards, running circles around them for easy steals. His rebounding was a huge help in this sense as well, as he was able to completely outhustle the Jazz guards in the paint. He worked well off the ball, and was able to knock down some long-range open shots. And defensively, he kept the Jazz point guards to a combined 5-14 from the field. If that wasn't enough evidence, consider his +/- ratio of +27, which is 7 better than the next best guy, Kendrick Perkins. That's a damn good night if I ever saw one. A crazy one for sure, but I'd take it any day of the week.
Lineup of Death Watch:
Tonight, the Lineup of Death went back to their crappy ways. They totaled a measly 3 minutes and 21 seconds on the floor together, but in that time, they managed to give up 8 points to the Jazz. It would have been 10 or 12 if the Jazz had nailed a couple of makeable jumpers. The bad play was mostly a result of the terrible defense of Thabeet and Martin, who both were too slow to catch up to their defenders on two occasions. Not to mention the fact that the lineup was totally offensively ineffective, especially with Maynor playing like complete horseradish right now.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westrook, Mr. Hustle
Thunder Down Under: Kendrick Perkins, with his first good performance this season.
Thunder Blunder: Eric "The Man With the Concrete Arms" Maynor
Thunder Plunderer: Enes Kanter, 18 Points, 7 Offensive Boards, 8-11 Shooting in only 15 minutes of play. 18 was a career high, as well. His good performance was probably because he matched up against Hasheem Thabeet.
Next Game: At the New Orleans Hornets, Friday, December 1st, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.