So, you thought that a fast-paced game would hurt Oklahoma City? Unless you were talking about Serge Ibaka, then you were dead wrong. Of course, I thought that the game would be close as well, but for different reasons. My theory was that if Harden and Lin were able to score at their normal pace, the Rockets would be able to take this game into the fourth quarter. Harden was par for the course while playing low minutes, and Lin would have gotten near his season average if he had played a complete game. In other words, the Rockets were as good as they've always been offensively. But the Thunder just straight up outscored them, and capitalized off of key turnovers.
The single point where the Rockets lost their lead was pretty obvious. At the end of the second quarter, the Thunder went on a 16-0 run. Basically, the Rockets managed to commit 5 turnovers in the span of 3.5 minutes. The pace of the game was already set, so the Thunder were really doing what they could to keep the pressure up. But the Rockets collapsed because their offense was far too simple. It seemed like every play was either an off-ball cut to the basket or a simple pick for a three. When the Rockets started telegraphing those plays, they became really easy to anticipate and pick off. Once those few turnovers ruined their rhythm, they got spooked and started jacking up bad shots. The hole they dug got bigger and bigger, and before you know it, they were down by 18 at the half.
The second half was a similar story. They diversified their offense a bit and took the ball away from Lin, but they were settling for worse shots, so their offense was overall less effective. Meanwhile, the Thunder were hitting almost every single shot they took, and Durant and Westbrook absolutely thrived in the transition game. Dudes like Grant Long were constantly talking about how a fast-paced game favored the Rockets. What they should be saying is that the Rockets are good at scoring and spacing the floor, and that they really hoped to exploit the Thunder's big lineup. Because the Thunder, especially Durant and Westbrook, really thrive in a transition offense.
I know that the team has become a lot more focused on the half-court game, especially with the departure of James Harden. But that doesn't mean they're bad at playing a fast-paced game, it just means that they're bad at forcing a fast paced game against teams who want to play slow. A good example is how they've struggled against Minnesota, Boston, and Indiana. But when the game is in a faster pace, they usually have no problems winning, like in their solid victories against San Antonio and Golden State. However, when the game is a full-on transition affair, the Thunder are likely to emerge as dominant.
Why? Well, for one, it's Westbrook's home environment. I'd discussed the flaws in his game before, but all of those problems lie at a root cause. He plays a lot of slower games like it's still a transition game, and his offense suffers as a result. Just look at his stop and pop jumpers at the top of the key, or his uncontrollable drives into the lane, where he misses open layups. If the pace was quicker and less players were back, those moves would be a lot more effective. And tonight, they totally were! He scored 28 while shooting 50% from the floor. His turnovers were up, but that's to be expected in a fast paced game.
Secondly, other Thunder players are suited to the transition game as well. Kevin Durant is excellent at running the floor and using his long arms to get to the rim. He doesn't have to be standing still to shoot. Kevin Martin played on a fast paced team in Houston, and is excellent at running up to the line and hitting a shot. Even guys like Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha can be surprisingly effective, given good passing and space to do work. Now, this isn't to say that that Thunder are bad in the half-court. That's what's so excellent about the Thunder offense. It's dynamic, so it rarely fails. But when it's all said and done, a fast paced game is always better for the Thunder.
However, a few do struggle in a fast-paced offense. Serge Ibaka usually isn't very effective, because he needs to work off of picks in the half-court game, and can't really rush his shot. He also doesn't have the senses you need to block shots in transition. (I should add that Kevin Durant is a super-awesome transition defender.) Maynor struggled with this offense as well, because he works best when he can make passes in a half-court situation.
It should be said that Reggie Jackson is somewhat like Westbrook in that he's suited to a faster-paced offense. He loves to shoot the corner three and shoot step-back jumpers on the wing, both things that can be done in transition. He's also arguably faster and more athletic than Maynor, so there's that. His awareness in terms of passing isn't really there, but, like with Westbrook, it's hopefully something that will come in time. And in the end, I think that's why Scott Brooks gave Jackson the backup point guard spot. He wants to push the pace and have more of a transition game, and hopefully be able to rest Durant and Westbrook more often mid-game. Eric Maynor was horrible at managing the offense when the only scorer on the floor was Kevin Martin, because he had no one to throw it to and couldn't draw pressure. Hopefully Reggie will be able to create his own offense and help alleviate this problem.
Anyway, it was another excellent win, and I'd love to draw the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. Phoenix tomorrow, and then it's on to our old friend P.J. Carlesimo and the Brooklyn Nets.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, who went full badger again.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, who dunks the ball like no other.
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor, who had two turnovers and a flagrant foul in garbage time. Talk about rock bottom.
Thunder Plunderer: James Harden, who was actually more effective than Marcus Morris.
Next Game: Versus the Phoenix Suns, Monday, December 31st, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.