The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Washington Wizards in overtime, 105-103. The Thunder were able to overcome a slow first half that saw the team shoot abysmally and only record 12 points in the 2nd quarter. However, following a big 3rd quarter and a defense that allowed only 42 points in the 2nd half, the Thunder were able to take the lead late in the game. The Wizards, who also shot poorly, got some clutch shooting out of the Caine of the NBA, Paul Pierce, who nailed two 3-pointers late to give his team the lead.
The Thunder, trailing by 2 points and 26 seconds remaining, executed a brilliant play out of a timeout. Utilizing Steven Adams in the post, they quickly worked the ball inside, only to have Adams pivot and feed Russell Westbrook, who drove the ball straight to the rim. Adams cleared out his path and Westbrook got an uncontested layup to tie the game and send it to OT.
In overtime, once again the Thunder demonstrated a heightened ability to both improvise to create good shots as well as capitalize on their athleticism. Kevin Durant got Marcin Gortat on a switch in OT, and instead of watching a long contested shot go up, Durant took the ball straight to the rim and dunked away Gortat's soul. (Wait, what's that? KD already dunked away Gortat's soul? What was left, pudding?)
The Thunder and Wizards battled back and forth to a tie at 103. The Thunder did a phenomenal job stonewalling John Wall and the Wizards with under a minute to play, with Westbrook and Andre Roberson executing a defensive switch perfectly, forcing Wall into an airball that caused a shot clock violation. The Thunder ran down the clock, but the Wiz took the intentional foul with 3 seconds remaining. Thunder fans collectively tightened their throats and other body parts as we have been in this situation countless times before. In fact, we just saw it at the end of regulation, which resulted in a terrible fadeaway 3-point heave from Durant. However, this time the Thunder did not panic when Durant got cut off from the staggered screen. Westbrook deked out two defenders at midcourt, took a smart pass from Anthony Morrow, and bolted to the rim uncontested for the game winning basket. Special mention goes to Adams who, once again, did a great job sealing off the lane so that Westbrook had a clear path.
Lastly, with 0.8 seconds left in the game, the Thunder still had to avoid a Wizards miracle shot. Thankfully, we now have the Stan Van Gundy defensive philosophy of the decade:
I don't mean to make light of his colorful adjectives, because Van Gundy's philosophy is spot on. If a team only needs a basket to tie or win, and the only way to get a good shot off is at the rim, DON'T LET THAT TEAM GET TO THE RIM. The Thunder followed this philosophy, and all Washington could muster was a John Wall desperation heave 35 feet from the rim.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who despite hoisting an unfavorable number of 3's, still finished with 34 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Westbrook finished with 32-8-8, and was the primary reason in the 3rd quarter that OKC was able to recover from a 12 point deficit. Special credit to Steven Adams, who recorded his career high with 20 rebounds, clearly enjoying the physical play with Nene and Gortat.
The Wizards were led by Nene, who finished with 24 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The first half's offensive production may bely this statement, but in my opinion this was a really good win. The Wizards are a very good team, especially on the defensive end. They remind me of the Trail Blazers in the sense that their team construct just makes sense, and seems built for deep playoff runs. Led by All-Star John Wall, they're no fluke.
What I appreciated most about this win was while the Thunder were still prone to rushing some possessions in the 4th quarter, we're continuing to see great strides in how they are executing down the stretch. The play that Westbrook finished to take the game to OT is a thing of beauty:
In no particular order other than sequence, here are things I loved about this play:
- Durant was committed to using Adams' high screen to initiate the play. Instead of bailing on the set when he couldn't get his man Paul Pierce into Adams on the first go, Durant reverses dribble and runs Pierce into Adams on the 2nd try.
- Adams rolls off the screen perfectly into open space, ready to make a play.
- The kickout to Westbrook is done without hesitation. Adams knows exactly where Russ is going to be, and fires the pass perfectly.
- Westbrook never even thinks about taking a 3-point shot here, which is a break in habit for Westbrook. Ordinarily he'd be going for the killshot here, but he sticks with the play as designed and immediately attacks, knowing where the lane will appear.
- While the play is clearly a kick out to Westbrook, it doesn't have to be. Adams could have easily caught, pivoted, and finished at the rim. (In fact, he had tried this only 2 minutes earlier, but clanked the dunk) He also had Dion Waiters on one wing and Morrow on the other.
- This is a great play set, because executing it properly opens up multiple options. Adams is proving that he can make the right read, and he can do it quickly. Once he becomes more fully aware of where his teammates are, this play can turn into a dunk, a layup, or wide open 3's.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
The Thunder didn't panic with 3 seconds left in the game. Granted, the score was tied and they weren't likely to leave Washington with much time, but their end game sequence reminds me so much of this one (jump to 5:14):
It is an amazing contrast. In this earlier game, Westbrook breaks off the play and forces a terrible shot, even with about the same amount of time left. Last night, he showed growth from that mistake. It's a basic premise that the Thunder often ignore - with the game on the line, make the defense work! Don't bail them out by taking a quick contested jumper. With a little bit of work, even against a great Wizards defense, the Thunder win the game with an uncontested layup. Well done.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 32 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists
Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, battling for 20 rebounds against a stout Wizards front line
Thunder Blunder: Reggie Jackson, zero points on 0-6 shooting. Wizards' backup PG is Old Man Miller; gotta do better than that.
Thunder Plunderer: Nene, 24 points but only 4 rebounds
Next game: @ East-leading Atlanta Hawks on Friday, Jan. 23 at 6:30PM CDT