Of all things, I never thought I would be writing the line "And Reggie Jackson saved the day" in my recap. But he did!
He only had 5 points and he didn't do it on his own, but it's really all that comes to mind. Tonight, the Thunder were struggling. The team was playing at this painfully slow pace brought about by the Hornets, who were controlling the ball extremely well. The Hornets shot the ball poorly, as they always do, but they were able to get some key offensive boards, avoid turnovers, get to the line, and distribute the ball rather well.
But then, out of nowhere, Scott Brooks had an ace in the hole. He threw out a lineup of Maynor-Jackson-Martin-Durant-Collison. You might think that lineup would be defensively inadequate, and if you did think so, you'd be right. But not against the Hornets, who have no real threat that could take advantage of the Thunder's lack of size. Instead, the Thunder pressured like madmen, immediately producing two turnovers and drastically increasing the pace of the game. The larger Hornets struggled to keep up, and their bigs no longer had the matchup advantage that allowed them free jumpshots. The third quarter ended on a 7-0 run, capped off by a Reggie Jackson three.
The lineup played until they had tired themselves out by the mid-fourth quarter. By then, it was an entirely different game. The shots were flowing freely, and entertaining things were happening. The Thunder should have cruised to victory at this point, but they didn't. For some reason, the Hornets got extremely hot from behind the three point arc at the best possible point, digging themselves out of some serious holes. It's not like they were taking advantage of pressure defense from the Thunder. They were just hitting some tough, well-defended shots and riding the momentum.
When it came down to crunch time, Anthony Davis was able to deliver and get himself to the line on three separate occasions. It didn't look like he took the game over, despite his 7 points within three minutes. But he was just in the right place at the right time, and got the Thunder D on two really good pump fakes.
At this point, the Thunder had secured a bit of a lead, and it looked like the game would be over. Of course, that wasn't to be, and Anthony Davis missed a free throw, resulting in another Brian Roberts triple. The Thunder were only up by 1, and immediately fouled because there was less than 24 seconds on the clock.
On the other end, Kevin Durant missed a free throw. Yes, he blew a free throw and gave the Hornets a chance to win it with a great three. Fortunately, the ice-cold Vasquez took a well-covered shot, and the Thunder ended up winning the game.
Why did this game come down to the final seconds? I'm just chalking it up to a case of bad luck. I know the Thunder have had trouble guarding the perimeter and you could point out a few issues they had over the last quarter and a half of the game. But you can't account for the Hornets going 5-7 from three in the final quarter. Or Anthony Davis wildly bouncing a free throw off of the rim. The bottom line is that the Thunder made an adjustment in the third quarter that paid huge dividends, and they did a great job closing out the game on the offensive and defensive end. Truth be told, 95% of the time, if the Thunder played a fourth quarter like they did, we wouldn't even be talking about a close game tonight. The Hornets were just out of their minds.
Now, does that excuse what happened in the first half? Absolutely not! The Thunder pretty much played like garbage up until the third quarter lineup change. Russell Westbrook has the size advantage against the Hornet guards, but he was really struggling against their quickness, and he couldn't really punish them in the post. The result was a lot of clanked shots, despite his usual fantastic performance in other areas. On the other end, Brian Roberts was having the game of his life.
The Thunder ended up shooting 31% in the first half, which is almost worse than my grades on math tests back in high school. They kept things close by getting to the line, but they struggled to find a consistent option. They tried to continually go into the post, but the Hornets played great help D in that area. Moreover, the Thunder couldn't punish them for staying there with Ibaka's mid-range shot, which was AWOL tonight. If you couple all that with a slow paced game, you've got the recipe for a low score and some boring basketball.
But at the end of the day, I didn't really see a big matchup problem that the Thunder really needed to fix, or a offensive strategy that wasn't working. Sometimes, the Thunder just can't execute and they have a bad day. Other times, the Hornets play above their means, and they have a good day. If there was one thing to take away from this game, it's that we struggle against slow offenses. Luckily, we won't be seeing the Pacers, Hornets, or 76ers in the playoffs, so I'm not concerned. Especially considering Brooks' willingness to make decisions on the fly. If the Thunder can walk away from this terrible day with a win, then I'm totally satisfied.
Somehow, it survived and now stands at 9. The fact that the Thunder can survive a trap game should serve to boost confidence in their ability to break records, but can they overcome the Spurs and Heat? Only time will tell.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, for being the consistent option we needed in the fourth.
Thunder Down Under: Reggie Jackson, for a couple of clutch shots.
Thunder Blunder: Thabo Sefolosha, who couldn't buy a three tonight.
Thunder Plunderer: Brian Roberts, the hero from Dayton.
Next Game: Versus the Sacramento Kings, Friday, December 14th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
|Final - 12.12.2012
|New Orleans Hornets
|Oklahoma City Thunder