Well, all that matters is that the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 107-103, on Thursday night, and head into the All-Star break with an NBA-best 43-12 record.
That's all that really matters. The Thunder sure played like a team that knew it was good, had nothing to prove, and just wanted to take a week to recharge their batteries for the stretch run.
Despite the Lakers only having eight healthy players, despite the highest scorer of those eight being Kendall Marshall with just 10.1 points per game, and despite going up against the 24th-ranked defense in the NBA, the Thunder entered the fourth quarter trailing 82-72.
Why? Sloppy play. 12 turnovers through three quarters, which honestly isn't that bad for the Thunder. But it wasn't just turning it over. It was failing to hustle back after misses, failing to stay in front of their man on defense, failing to do all of the little things that this team has shown they are so capable of doing during this incredible first half of the season.
They also missed a lot of shots. Some were contested, but again, this was the 24th-ranked defense in the NBA, and yet the Thunder was shooting just 44 percent from the floor through three quarters. Even worse, they were a dismal 3-of-20 (15 percent) from three-point range.
But you knew the run was coming. There was no way the Thunder would take the entire night off. The comeback started with 5 minutes left in the third when coach Scott Brooks decided to sub in the hustle-oriented Andre Roberson.
With the Thunder down 71-57, it was more of a wake-up call than anything. With a renewed sense of urgency, the Thunder began chipping away, getting back to doing those little things that they were failing to do early on.
Still, it wasn't until Derek Fisher hit yet another momentum-shifting three with 41 seconds left in the third to cut the lead to 82-70 that the run really began. Jeremy Lamb added a floater shortly after, and as the buzzer sounded for the end of the third quarter, the TNT cameras showed Kevin Durant on the bench, confident as ever, doing his patented clap-and-make-fists-clap-and-make-fists move. The message was clear: we're within range, now it's time to start taking this seriously.
Through three quarters, Durant's number suggested he was having yet another monster night: 24 points, eight rebounds, six assists. Something however just felt off. He was just 9-of-22 shooting, he had six turnovers, all of which seemed excessively careless, and he even seemed to be complaining to the refs more than usual. Yet there he was, after a brief rest, with the game within 10 points, exuding confidence, ready to lead his team back in the fourth.
After Ryan Kelly opened the fourth with a three, the Thunder reeled off a quick 10-0 run, reminding everyone watching how devastating they can be when they dial up their defensive intensity.
From there, it was just the usual game plan for the Thunder closing out an opponent in the Westbrook-less Era. Defensive stops, limiting second-chance opportunities, offensive rebounding. Oh, and a lot of Kevin Durant.
After starting the game 0-for-8 from 3-point range, Durant was 3-for-5 from that distance in the fourth quarter, including a dagger that put the Thunder up 101-96 with 2 minutes left. He poured in 19 points and added four boards and an assist for the quarter.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Thank goodness that is over with. In all honesty, you could feel this one coming. Remember in college when you had a Friday midterm and most of your friends were already back home for Christmas break? That was the Thunder tonight. 26 other teams were on All Star break (and, technically, the Bulls and Nets were by the time the Thunder tipped off), and the Thunder already had the best record for the first half locked up. On top of that, they were in Los Angeles, where it was 79 degrees in the afternoon, and where they were playing a team of eight guys, almost all perennial bench dudes.
So yeah, it's hard to blame the Thunder for coming out flat. The only disappointment would have been if they actually didn't get it together and lost the game. Even then, there wouldn't be much to take away from it. The Thunder proved it is the team to beat in the West, and nothing that happened Thursday night in the Staples center was ever going to change that.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The easy answer is that they were playing the Lakers, who started Steve Blake, Kendall Marshall, Shawne Williams, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman. That probably is the biggest reason. Because if there is one team you can get away with playing as carelessly as the Thunder did tonight, it's the Lakers.
On top of that, it was the hustle and revitalized effort on the defensive end for the fourth quarter. Look, the Lakers were making some shots they hardly ever make. I mean, did you see what Chris Kaman was doing? But when it came down to it, the defense clamped down, forced the Lakers' shambles of a roster into tough situations, and capitalized on the other end. Which leads to this...
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
Nine - The Lakers had nine turnovers in the fourth quarter, and they all came in the first six minutes of the quarter, which allowed the Thunder to actually take their first lead at 89-87.
Some of the turnovers were just a result of sloppiness on the Lakers' part - again, check out tonight's rotation - but the defense's hands were far more active, cheating into driving lanes and poking the ball away. And it was the way they got out quickly in transition with those turnovers, too. The quickest way to orchestrate a comeback is by forcing turnovers, and the Thunder did just that when they needed it most.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
The Thunder finishes the first half of the season with the best record in the entire NBA. They did that without their second-best player, a top 10 NBA talent. They continue to find ways to win, no matter how far down they get, no matter how poorly they are playing.
And now, their best player, the frontrunner for the MVP award, gets to showcase his talent some more alongside the best talent the league has to offer, while the rest of the guys get a much-deserved break. The youngins can play, the oldies (Fisher) can relax, and they will all hopefully be getting their point guard back soon after they return.
Life is good in Loud City.
Thunder Wonder: KEVIN DURANT: 43 POINTS, 12 REBOUNDS, 7 ASSISTS, 3 STEALS
Thunder Down Under: DEREK FISHER: 12 POINTS, 4 REBOUNDS, 2 ASSISTS, 3 STEALS, +19 (!!)
Real quick note on Fisher: There are rumors starting to fly about the Thunder's interest in another shooter. Well, with Westbrook coming back soon, already cutting into some guys' rotation minutes, where do the rest of the minutes come from should another shooter come into the fold? With the way Fisher has played in Westbrook's absence, not just with his three point shooting (which has been fantastic), but in pretty much every area, he has certainly made the case that he still deserves a good chunk of minutes even with Westbrook's return.
Thunder Blunder: KENDRICK PERKINS: -9
Just one of those matchups where Perk really isn't necessary. Not his fault, he proved his worth against LaMarcus Aldridge the other night.
Thunder Plunderer: KENDALL MARSHALL: 14 POINTS, 17 ASSISTS
Next game: Thurs., Feb. 20 vs. Miami Heat.