Yesterday, the Thunder shocked everybody by dropping a OKC franchise record 79 points on the Orlando Magic in the first half. It wasn't shocking because we didn't think the Thunder were capable of such a thing. Rather, it's shocking because just a week ago some were wondering whether the Thunder were going to be able to make the playoffs.
1. The Magic were already a team bereft of post defense. Orlando's centers (Vucevic, O'Quinn, and Dedmon) are all notoriously unathletic, while their fours (Frye, Gordon, Harkless) are more perimeter oriented than anything.
2. Orlando's commitment to play a faster pace over the past few weeks. Sure, a fast pace might benefit Orlando against a defenseless team like Houston or Chicago. But when Orlando ran with the Thunder, they couldn't force any mismatches. This meant....
3. The Thunder always had the rim protected. The Magic didn't really have the caliber of perimeter shooting to make up for this. Payton, Oladipo, and Marble are really nothing to speak of from that range. So the Magic came up empty at the rim a lot, which led to a lot of Thunder runouts.
Still, you've got to have a lot more than the Xs and Os going your way if you're going to set a franchise record. Special things have to happen. Let's take a look at the footage.
Russell Westbrook Highlights (14 Pts, 5 Ast at the half):
You've got the typical Westbrook stuff here. The athletic drives to the rim, the stop and pop shots in transition, and just generally excellent execution out of quick pick and rolls. But there was one aspect that I think really separated this performance from Russ' others. Check out the three dimes Westbrook drops starting at 1:26. All three plays see Russ touch the ball no more than an instant, because he instantly knew where to make the read. It's the kind of timeliness and execution you need on a record setting night.
Of course, you'll need a little bit of luck too. Also featured in the highlight reel above was a miracle Andre Roberson three. You might point to the fact that Roberson hit a three in the second half as well, and dismiss the first half three as normal happenstance. But really, Andre was shooting 12.5% on the year and hadn't hit a three in game since Christmas Day. Furthermore, Roberson got a rare chance to warm up in-game before he attempted his first official three. You see, Andre took a practice three after a foul had already been called. The three didn't count, but it did go in, and the success gave Roberson the confidence and muscle memory to hit a three from the same spot a few minutes later. The whole string of events is just unlikely, but it did net the Thunder three extra points and gain Roberson a bit of defensive respect.
Anyway, I'm not done talking about our stars. Did you see KD last night? He had 16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, a steal, and a block.....at the half.
So you've got all of the typical KD stuff here. The dirk-leg jumper. Backdoor cuts. Driving and drawing fouls. Getting blocks in transition. Awesome dunks. It's all cool stuff, and we've all seen it before.
But check out the sick passing! At 0:33, Durant manages to slip the ball through three guys (who are about to trap) and right into the hands of Adams. At 1:31, KD pulls off the same thing, throwing a bullet through two defenders who are actively trying to deny that very pass. 2:01 is another glowing example of some unreal passing from KD. This pass is more reminiscent of Westbrook's stuff, as Durant only touches the ball for a moment before it's sent careening towards the post to Perkins.
Of course, there's lucky stuff here too. Look no further than 2:06, where KD manages to get an offensive rebound and score off of his teammate's free throw. You don't see that every day.
Lastly, let's take a look at Dion Waiters. 12 Points on 5 of 5 shooting at the half. Totally unreal.
It's not like Waiters is doing anything remarkable on a strategic level. He's using basic pick and rolls, getting ISOs on the perimeter, and very occasionally spacing the weak side for Reggie. What's really crazy about these highlights is the fact that all of these shots went in. I mean, that off-balance fadeaway at 0:48? Even against Ben Gordon, it looks tough. Then that pull-up three at 1:01. Both of those shots were just bad decisions that turned out well, IMO. Still, I've got to give kudos to Waiters for finishing through the foul at 1:17. Dion's simply a guy who's going to give you a lot of bad with the good, but there are certain nights where things will just come together for him and he'll come out looking great. Last night was one of those nights.
There's lots of talk around the NBA about teams like the Spurs and Hawks. They don't feature a star player, but have lots of role players who do what they do well. Great coaching, complex sets, and excellent execution lead these teams to victory. But when I see a game like this, I'm really glad that I get to write about the Thunder. They might not be doing anything complicated. But watching KD and Westbrook beat their opponents not only with athleticism, but also with awesome on-the-fly decision making? That's really cool to witness. Not to mention the fact that Waiters gives the Thunder the third pick and roll threat they've desperately been lacking. Simply put, he hits mid-range jumpers when defenders give him space, while Reggie Jackson can really hit a shooting brick wall. Hopefully, he opens up even more space for Jackson and Ibaka.
All in all, there are a lot of little things that go into a record setting half. But the biggest reason? This is the greatest Thunder team we've ever seen.