If anyone actually saw last night's game with all of the college football drama going on, then the big thing that they'll remember is the sheer insanity of Russell Westbrook. For the second straight game, his statline simply didn't do him justice. He was all over the floor, utterly destroying Greivis Vasquez and Brian Roberts mentally. All of his shots might have not went in, but he was able to get them to any spot of the floor that he wanted, and it totally disrupted the flow of whatever the Hornets were doing.
Aside from Robin Lopez, who dueled with Kendrick Perkins constantly, the Hornets were an outright disaster. They just weren't executing. Ryan Anderson was downright wasting possessions sometimes, jacking up reasonable-looking shots that just wouldn't go in. Aside from a three at the beginning of the game and a couple more in garbage time, Anderson didn't hit a single jumpshot tonight. Al-Farouq Aminu was about as effective as he was with Nigeria during the Olympics, struggling to finish near the rim. Everyone else didn't score a lot or had some degree of mediocrity in how they played. The Hornets offense was just not good enough to get it done tonight, and during the third quarter, it just felt like they were hitting their head against the wall. They kept attacking the paint and failing to draw fouls, allowing the Thunder to get out in transition and quickly seal the victory.
But as with all blowouts, there was a singular point where you felt that the Thunder had taken control of the game for good. Like yesterday, tonight's play involves Westbrook:
This play capped off a 9-0 run, and just came off of the heels of a Westbrook layup that no Hornet even tried to defend. Once this insane three went in, you knew that the Hornets were done.
Going along the theme of Westbrook, it's interesting that the past two games have given you completely different impressions of him. If I hadn't seen the actual games themselves and just looked at the box score, I would have thought his impact on the game was an overall negative. His bad shooting percentages and myriad of turnovers make him look like he's hogging the ball and making bad decisions. But when you watch him on the floor, you can see that there's a clear intimidation and energy factor there. It's hard to quantify, but even when the stats aren't showing up, Westbrook seems to have a hand in every successful play. Defensively, he's destroying his opponent wherever he can. He's staying in front of them, constantly poking at the ball, staying in the passing lanes whenever he can, and hustling for rebounds. He's just....everywhere, with boundless energy.
It reminds me of something J.A. Sherman once said, about how Michael Jordan wasn't fantastic defensively until he had a taste of the proverbial "red meat". In other words, he wasn't good until he found out how great of a feeling it was to totally shut his opponent down. I'm too young to truly know how Jordan played night-to-night, but Westbrook might have finally found his "red meat". Obviously, he can't keep up this pace for the next 64 games, but it surely bodes well for the playoffs. Or, at least the next time we have to face Tony Parker.
Eric Maynor seems to be on the opposite track of Russell Westbrook, though. His shot has gotten so badly off that he's hesitant to shoot it at all. Yes, he took 5 shots tonight, but those were all in garbage time. And they looked atrocious. The dude is falling way short of the rim, and he looks out of sorts. I mean, I hesitate to say anything, because he's still a virtuoso when it come to taking care of the ball. The two assists he had in the second quarter taking advantage of the Hornets overanxious help defense looked sick. And he hardly shot at all to begin with, so it's hard to say what's a slump because the sample size is so small. But at this point, he's taken 77 shots this year, and he's shooting 28.6% from the floor. That's like a overhyped shooting guard on a bad team. I know he's not the greatest offensive player, but you'd hope he could get somewhere around 40%, because those extra few points would mean a lot against good teams.
Is it time for Reggie Jackson. No and no. Despite Maynor's offensive problems, the downgrade you take in terms of assist to turnover ratio and number of bad shots jacked up when you put in Reggie Jackson isn't enough to warrant his inclusion in the starting lineup. But Brooks was seriously considering giving him Maynor's minutes at the beginning of the season and we do need more scoring on the bench, so I could be wrong. Still, I'd rather have Maynor help manage the game than have Jackson try to force some offense.
The other Thunder players really played fantastic ball tonight. The two Kevins did what they had to do in terms of scoring, though a couple of Martin's shots were admittedly pretty lucky. Kendrick Perkins scored in double figures for the second night in a row, really benefiting from increased confidence in his play and the higher energy of Russell Westbrook. Nick Collison had 12 Points and 3 Steals, though you might've missed them if you blinked. Only 6 of his points were in non-garbage time, but he did a good job of exploiting the Hornets tendency to forget about the weak side, and he had some active hands on defense when slower bigs tried to scoot by him.
Overall, the Hornets just didn't have the talent to win. In other words, they shot themselves out of the game. They don't have the tools to dominate the boards or get to the line, so they need to execute well if they're going to compete with a team like the Thunder. But the guys who took a lot of shots ended up hoisting a lot of bricks as the Hornets fell further and further behind. It's a simple explanation that a lot of "analysts" defer to when they can't come up with anything else to say, but it's true here. If you look at the shots the Hornets were missing, you'll realize those same shots were going in for the Thunder.
Lineup of Death Watch:
The Lineup of Death got some extended minutes at the end of the first, and they actually were a net positive, gaining four points during that span. They also had minutes in the fourth, but meh. My criticism of the lineup remains the same. Every offensive possesion basically boiled down to a Kevin Martin isolation play. One play saw the ball touch every player's hands before it went to Martin, but nobody was really able to initiate any sort of worthwhile space against their defenders. The result was Martin forcing some shots and taking advantage of the rookie Austin Rivers. Sefolosha went to the line once, but that was on a fast break.
Defensively, Jason Smith bricked two wide open shots, and that basically lost the Hornets the +/- battle, since Martin was able to nab points on three separate occasions. Overall, the lineup did well tonight, but I just don't think the same result would have presented itself against a better team. Still, kudos to Kevin Martin for his crazy plays.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, the red meat taster.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, the silent scorer.
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor, for his garbage time bricks
Thunder Plunderer: Robin Lopez, 12 Points, 6 Boards
Next Game: At the Brooklyn Nets, Tuesday, December 4th, 6:30 PM Central Standard Time.
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