I know all the talk is going to be about KD. He's the game's greatest closer. He can hit shots when he's double or triple teamed. Yadda Yadda, we all know KD is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But I'd like to kick off tonight's recap with a look at two guys who put the Thunder in position of KD to have another fourth quarter takeover. Jeremy Lamb and Hasheem Thabeet. Yes, you read that right. Jeremy Lamb got some serious burn in the first and second quarter and Hasheem Thabeet hit a jumper. Not only that, but these guys were the main catalysts behind an excellent second quarter run. Jeremy Lamb's long arms were able to force at least a couple of turnovers, and he was able to hit a couple of really awesome looking jumpers right in the face of opponents. Aside from hitting the aforementioned jumper, Thabeet was able to tip in a shot, get to the line, and stop two attempts in the lane. All of this came in the span of about 6 minutes during a 15-6 run.
From that point on, Westbrook took over. He was the point guard that we all wanted him to be. Not only was he scoring with ease, he was demonstrating excellent court vision and getting some really slick looking assist. On the other end, Atlanta started to fall in love with the jumpshot and went into the half down 14.
Ultimately, I think that was Atlanta's problem tonight. They settled for way too many jump shots. Any time they'd try to go into the paint they'd get trapped, they couldn't draw enough fouls, and they almost shot better from outside the arc than they did inside the arc. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the team didn't even glance at the paint unless they had an open lane or something.
You could also go back to J.A. Sherman's argument about the last game and look at the rebounding numbers. Atlanta only had one more offensive rebound than OKC did, and OKC was far more dominant getting the defensive boards. This allowed them to make up for their high turnover numbers and lower amount of shots taken. If you compare tonight's box score to the last one, it's the only team stat that came out significantly different. Go figure.
Beyond his lack of offensive boards, Al Horford was terrible offensively tonight. I saw him play a lot with the Domincan Republic over the summer, and he definitely is prone to have nights like this. By all accounts he should have been able to shoot better from the floor, but even when he did get open, his release was slow and he clanked some very makeable shots. On top of that, Ibaka would switch onto him when he'd be out on the perimeter, and more often than not, Horford wouldn't have the presence of mind to find Josh Smith.
Again, this brings us back to the excellent post combination of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. I know Perk isn't the perfect center, but the communication between these two guys is unbelievable. They're able to switch matchups almost seamlessly and cover for each other's weaknesses. Perk takes the back to the basket guys, Ibaka jumps for the guy who drive in. Perk holds down the fort against a potentially open player while Ibaka goes out to guard the shooter. It's hard to slow down guys like Josh Smith, but if you can get force Horford to have a bad night, you're well on your way to a win.
Serge Ibaka struggled tonight, but it's really hard to blame him. Last time he faced the Hawks, all he had to deal with was the slower Anthony Tolliver and Ivan Johnson. But with Josh Smith on his tail for the duration of the game, he's facing somebody who's just as tall, quick, and athletic as he is. So he couldn't get as many blatantly open shots as he usually does. Then again, he missed a couple of easy shots as well, so it could have been an off-night. He was alright otherwise.
Also, if you watched the game on SportSouth, Dominique Wilkins was constantly railing on Serge Ibaka for taking mid-range shots. Clearly, he hasn't seen Ibaka play all year, nor did he see Ibaka play against the Hawks on November 2nd. Every single time Ibaka rose up, the guy was ready with a diss. Comeon, Dominique! His shots are a lot more reasonable than your nephews' are.
I do have one final quibble, though. Why in Sam Hill didn't we give any minute to Jeremy Lamb in the fourth quarter? After a nearly flawless second quarter performance, Brooks opted to leave him on the bench while the second unit stunk it up and lost the lead. I know I said I'd get rid of the "Lineup of Death" watch, but they looked atrocious tonight. They turned the ball over, couldn't find any open shooters on offense, and couldn't defend the paint. The Hawks were able to get the deficit to within four, and the Thunder needed KD heroics to save the day.
But meh, none of it matters. The fact remains that we closed out a very good team while witnessing one of the greatest fourth quarter performances we've ever seen out of Kevin Durant. If you needed any convincing, after tonight, he's definitely Mr. Fourth Quarter.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who else?
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, who is a point guard.
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, who had his first bad shooting performance of the season.
Thunder Plunderer: Jeff Teague, with a quiet 19 points and 9 assists.
Next Game: At the Minnesota Timberwolves, Thursday, December 20th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
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