What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
"I think once anybody gets into a groove and their shots start flowing, their confidence gets higher." -James Harden
Man, was James Harden in the groove tonight. Not only did he score 40, but he had 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals as well. His points came at the most critical of times, as he basically willed the Thunder into the game at the end of the first after a big Suns run. He also made a few critical plays at the beginning of the fourth that pushed the game from a Thunder advantage straight into Thunder domination.
The Suns played a solid game tonight, taking advantage of some errant Thunder misses from mid-range early on and getting out in transition. They were able to find a lot of open threes by shooting before the Thunder defense was set. But once the Thunder were able to slow the game down, their half-court offense struggled, and they hawked up shots they probably shouldn't have. Their offense eventually found regularity, but when it got down to it in the late third and early fourth
Also, Kendrick Perkins got another dumb technical tonight, after the Thunder had already pulled away in the fourth. It's hard to see whether it was warranted or not, but it's still disappointing. If it's counted, it will be his 13th technical on the season, putting him three away from the limit of 16 and a suspension. Technicals reset in the playoffs, and each player gets a maximum of 5 in that situation.
What was tonight's turning point?
I'd argue it was when Derek Fisher hit a buzzer beating three to end the third, and then got fouled by Sebastian Telfair on a three attempt to start the fourth, pushing the lead from 3 to 8. Childress cut it with a two, but Harden responded with a jumper, and after Redd missed a shot, Harden responded again with a crucial layup. The lead was then 10, and the Thunder never looked back.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
Our offenses' ability to stave a drought. I know I've harped on this issue a lot lately, but it was nice to see the Thunder actually bring this idea to execution tonight. When the Thunder were missing shots in the third and fourth, two things kept them in the game: Excellent defense, and their ability to get to the line.
The defense consisted of two parts: Keeping Gortat away from the basket and out of transition, and getting in the passing lanes of the Suns' guards. Gortat is a great scorer off of a roll and in transition, but he's only above average with his back to the basket, and Perkins is one of the league's best at defending those players. The Thunder's pressure was spot on. Sometimes it resulted in open threes for guys like Nash, Frye, and Dudley, but they committed a lot of turnovers and weren't able to get past Ibaka's help defense in the paint very often.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
Steve Nash: 5 Assists, 5 Turnovers. He's usually the bright spot in a bad statline, and the epitome of a great team player. But tonight, he fell prey to some excellent Thunder pressure. The Thunder knew where his passing lanes were, and didn't let him have anything come easy.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
With San Antonio's blowout win against the Kings, the Thunder are still half a game back of them for the first seed in the West. San Antonio's best remaining shot at a loss this season comes in two days against the Lakers, making a win for the Thunder on that same day against the Kings all the more critical. Emotionally, this win gives the Thunder some confidence, as it's the first playoff team they've defeated since their win against Chicago on April 1st.
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, FEAR THE BEARD
Thunder Down Under: Derek Fisher, for two very well-timed shots.
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, for a couple of really badly bricked threes early on.
Thunder Plunderer: Jared Dudley, for some efficient scoring tonight.
Next Game: At the Sacramento Kings, Friday, April 20th, 9 PM Central Daylight Time.