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In the Thunder's second straight game without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook stole the show. In a mere 27 minutes of action, Westbrook managed to register 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 17 assists. The 17 assists sets Westbrook's career high. Previously, Westbrook's career high was 16 assists, done twice. As you can imagine, the rest of the team fed off of Westbrook wonderfully, and the Thunder had absolutely no issue dispatching the Nuggets, 119-94.
It's insane to think about just how involved Westbrook is. On the second night of a back to back, he had a hand in virtually every offensive possession while he was on the floor. Russ mainly scored in transition, off the ball as a shooter, and via Kanter picks. In terms of passing, it was just so easy for Westbrook to draw Nugget double teams. admittedly though, during the latter stages of the game, the Nugget defense was getting a bit lazy. Still though, this is one of the most amazing performances I've seen out of Westbrook. You could just tell how Russ affected the game when he entered, especially in terms of getting OKC in the paint.
The starters shoot 65% from the floor
Every single one of these guys looked amazing. Serge Ibaka, whom finished 10 of 18 from the floor, didn't take a single three point shot. It marks only the second game of 2015 where Serge has taken no threes at all. Ibaka had no trouble finding his range though, shooting a rock solid 6-11 outside the paint. Faried just couldn't seem to track Ibaka on pick and rolls, which resulted in a lot of open attempts. Ibaka's post partner, Enes Kanter, had a stellar night. Kanter did his work almost entirely in the paint, getting low position on Jusuf Nurkic with ease. Whether it was via offensive boards, a pick and roll with Russ, or pure muscle, Kanter had his way near the rim tonight.
The other two starters had positive contributions as well. Kyle Singler knocked down all three of his shots, and showed a cariety of skills with each basket. We already know Singler is a great shooter, but he can also do some limited work off of screens, score strong near the basket, and he passes impreccably. Roberson rounds out the five, grabbing a basket at the rim and dishing three assists. Andre's contribution might seem small, but he's doing a terrific job of making quick decisions in half-court sets on offense. Roberson still isn't a shooting threat, but as long as he can move the ball amongst better offensive players, he won't drag down the team.
How did it get out of hand?
The Nuggets registered only 18 points during the first quarter, and it was a hole that the team just couldn't dig itself out of. Make no mistake, OKC was the better team through and through. But Denver was able to keep relative pace with OKC for the latter three quarters of the game, while the first quarter was just a total implosion. The Nuggets just couldn't get to the basket. I mean, look at OKC's and Denver's shot charts below....
Denver was settling for a bunch of tough 4-8 foot shots instead of getting easier shots at the rim. Meanwhile, the Thunder were getting deep on every play and getting fouled. OKC would draw 5 fouls in the quarter, while Denver would only draw 2.
21 Team Assists in first half, most in Thunder history
Westbrook was a titanic part of this stat, but a lot of credit has to be given to Dion Waiters. I know that I just absolutely ripped this dude for his performance against Charlotte, but I loved the way Dion played in the first half. Waiters came in with a willingness to pass, and was constantly looking to get the ball inside. Waiters was also really good with his shot selection, only isolating when he had a mismatch. It was probably one of the best halves I've seen Waiters put in during his Thunder career. (The second half, where Dion shot 3-10, saw him revert to his old chucking ways.)
Waiters didn't register a single assist during the entire game though. The other big contributors came from all across the team. Nick Collison pitched three assists into the historic total, using his lightning-quick decision making for some really sneaky plays. Obviously, Collison is worth every cent we pay him. Enes Kanter was able to contribute three assists to the historic total as well. One of Kanter's dimes was a particularly memorable outlet pass that Perk could have never made. D.J. Augustin threw in two assists to that total, and he continues to work wonders for OKC's ball movement when Russ is off the floor. Augustin bites off a bit more than he can chew sometimes, but he runs the offense so much faster than Reggie Jackson. D.J. makes us so fast and so good!
Lawson, Gallinari symbolize old ghosts for Thunder
Ty Lawson is still a very effective shot creator against Oklahoma City's offense, and his final stats reflect that. In just 24 minutes of action, Lawson was able to register 17 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals on 6-12 shooting. This comes a game after Mo Williams registered advantageous numbers against Westbrook. Obviously, Westbrook was the much better offensive player, and the increased pace of the game allowed for some throwaway baskets. But Lawson's good night signals that the Thunder will continue to have problems with smaller, quicker point guards.
Danilo Gallinari had a good night as well, shooting 5 of 11 from the floor. Gallinari worked almost entirely on the weak side and off the ball. I wouldn't take it as a symbol of bad defense from Singler, as Singler was simply committed to protecting the rim. You'll take Gallinari's jumpers sometimes, and he's symbolic of the type of spot shooter that has killed OKC in the past. It appears that even with new personnel, the general makeup of the Thunder will remain the same.
- Denver came into this game as the NBA's third best rebounding team, yet lost the rebounding battle to the Thunder 42-60.
- Over the past three games, OKC has out-rebounded their opponents 181-122.
- OKC nearly doubled Denver's field goal percentage in the first half, 65% to 33%.
- Mitch McGary played with a ton of hustle and is like our Anderson Varejao. Loved the charge he drew near the rim, and love how he never gives up on a play. Also love how he's trying to develop a mid-range game without resorting to chucking.
- Anthony Morrow went 4-6 with 7 rebounds and a steal AND a block! And he's just a footnote! Morrow is more than a spacer these days, and works great shooting closer shots off of screens. Also, despite protecting the rim on D, Morrow makes smart Euro-style fouls and has quick hands.
- Perry Jones III hit a three today, ca$h money
- Joffrey Lauvergne, the French big man who played in his first NBA game tonight, has one of the coolest names in the whole NBA. I've seen him play a great deal for France, and he's only a step behind French teammates Rudy Gobert and Alexis Ajinca. Louvergne was solid near the rim, and could carve out a role in this league if he gets his jump shot going.
- Erick Green also looked decent off of Denver's bench. He had a lot of speed and got to the rim a couple of times. Might be worth keeping tabs on.
- Most of Denver's players don't seem phased when they give up a basket. As a fan, always hate to see that happen.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, the new MVP? Maybe, maybe, maybe. We'll see.
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, whom made mincemeat of Nurkic
Thunder Blunder: Steve Novak, 0-2 from the floor (unlike some other writers at this site, I ALWAYS give this award because no game is truly flawless)
Thunder Plunderer: Ty Lawson, because he's the Law, son!
Next Game: Versus the Indiana Pacers, Tuesday, February 24th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!