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How Westbrook won the game
With 7:31 to go in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were up by seven. It had been a ho-hum game between a couple of young teams. The T-Wolves showcased some great ball movement, fundamental play, and ability to get to the line. The Thunder had bullied their way to dominance in the paint, and were doing a good job of using that spacing for some key threes early in the fourth. But OKC's bench offense was a bit perimeter-oriented, and the hard-working T-Wolves kept pace.
Then, Russell Westbrook came in. Over the next 5:18, Westbrook would shoot 5-7 from the field, 3-3 from the free throw line, and finish with 15 total points. Russ even found times to grab three offensive boards, dish two assists, and steal it once. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it: Russell Westbrook took over this game. Russ ran the pick and roll to perfection all night long, but some of his plays in the fourth were characterized by good patience in the half-court. Three of Russell's five field goals came via an assist, which shows you what kind of mindset he was in tonight.
Westbrook's game overall wasn't flawless. Eight turnovers loom over Russ's final statline. The mistakes are completely forgivable, though. Westbrook was just trying to force the ball against one of the worst interior Ds in the league. Some of the easy baskets he was able to get just by gambling on risky passes to OKC's stronger bigs were well worth it. Furthermore, his spacing was what created shots for the Thunder all night long, aside from a brief stint of success with Kanter in the third.
By the way, Westbrook's final line was a triple double. Sixth in his last eight games. As Thunder fans, we have only the highest standards, so this is par for the course. What I really noticed about tonight though was Russ's ability to hit the deep three with such ease. I actually get excited when Westbrook spots up from ultra long range now, and I used to cringe! Also, don't forget about Russ' evolving use of the glass on his mid-range jumpers. Love to see Westbrook using as many old school big man tools as possible to elevate his game, especially considering his size for his position.
Lineups all over the place
With Serge Ibaka out tonight with right knee soreness, Mitch McGary got a crack at the starting lineup. Brooks made a further tweak though, dropping Kyle Singler for Dion Waiters. This had the effect of adding more offense to the starting lineup, as well as an additional ballhandler. Singler never really puts the ball on the floor, despite good shooting ability.
Throughout the game, Coach Brooks made a ton of further adjustments. The biggest change was Kanter and Adams playing together for large stretches of the second and third quarters. That arrangement worked out well for a while, as OKC basically godzillaed all of the offensive boards. But Minnesota quickly grew wise and used their speed to exploit the Kanter/Adams combo. Brooks quickly withdrew, but the Thunder probably came out for the better. This is the second straight game we've seen Brooks use both centers together after never using the tactic previously.
I'm only scratching the surface though. Steve Novak got his first regular time, and hit two completely meaningless threes. One came after Novak stepped out of bounds, and the other came in garbage time. Nick Collison had the cobwebs dusted off on him as well, after being forgotten about in the second half of the Clipper game. Despite a quiet game overall, Collison would actually come up big on defense in the clutch. Nick got a key steal on a pick and roll late in the third that led to a Westbrook layup, and blocked a Justin Hamilton shot in the early fourth. Both of these came when OKC was trading baskets with Minnesota offensively, so for Collison to win two possessions was big.
Getting back to Brooks, another weird thing he did was effectively removing Waiters from the starting lineup only three minutes into the first. Singler stepped in for the rest of the first quarter, but pretty much remained with the bench lineups for the rest of the game. Waiters would promptly return to his starter role for the rest of the game.
But the changes in rotation continued. At the end of the first half, Roberson lost his spot in the starting lineup. Morrow took his place and -lo and behold-, OKC went on an 11-4 run. Then, Roberson was right back in the starting lineup to begin the second half. And Roberson's lineup did quite well, building the Thunder's lead to 14. But Roberson would never see the floor again. This time, D.J. Augustin would replace Roberson in the starting lineup for the fourth quarter push. The lineup did really well, and you have to think that D.J. did wonders for OKC's offense.
At the end of the day, it's pretty obvious that Brooks was experimenting against a bad team. More power to him, I say.
Minnesota uses half-court offense, foul game to stay in it
The Timberwolves don't have a lot of shooters other than Kevin Martin. If he doesn't establish things from range, the Wolves aren't going to be a serious threat from beyond the arc. K-Mart was 1-5 tonight, with some painfully open misses that reminded me of his days in OKC. Still, the T-Wolves managed to survive through alternate forms of offense for three entire quarters.
The first quarter was a bad one for the T-Wolves from the floor, but a 10/10 performance from Andrew Wiggins at the line kept Minnesota in the game. Wiggins took advantage of OKC's lack of a stopper at his position. The second quarter saw the Wolves use a lot of half-court offense. Rubio and K-Mart worked within that scheme and managed to find a ton of room coming via off-ball screens. Gorgui Dieng threw in his help too, constantly lurking near the rim for tenacious points. The third quarter was all about Justin Hamilton, the former Heat towel-waiver. Hamilton worked the pick and roll with Zach LaVine quite well, despite it looking much less impressive than anything OKC did.
In the fourth, Minnesota actually scored relatively well. The LaVine-Hamilton combo continued to form the basis for the T-Wolf offense. But Minnesota had no answer for Russell, and the T-Wolves didn't take a single non-garbage time three in the fourth.
- Poor Gorgui Dieng. He's too small to play effective help defense at the rim at the NBA level. Dieng was getting obliterated down there in the first quarter.
- D.J. Augustin is like a second Eric Maynor. His offense is a big change of pace from Russell sometimes, and he almost never takes errant shots. Also like Maynor, Augustin's shooting percentages are never really great but no one seems to notice. Not complaining about tonight, though.
- When OKC's defense doesn't work, it's generally one of two things. 1. The Thunder trap too haphazardly. 2. The Thunder allow a terrible mismatch.
- Mitch McGary his another jumper tonight. Moar moar moar
- James Harden's shot chart:
- (JK it was Dion Waiters, but seriously I'm not complaining at all. Dion's mid-range game can go to heck.)
- Kanter literally went coast to coast tonight, at the beginning of the third. It was clear that both he and McGary were very potent offensively, but they really gave up some ground on D. Furthermore, I have a hard time seeing McGary establish himself from range every night like Ibaka can. Still, I'd love to see this pairing more in the future, particularly on the bench.
- Steven Adams! Great And 1 play with 6:54 to go that was essential in sealing the game. Adams also did a terrific job of locking down the paint. During the early fourth, he was essential in keeping Minnesota away from the rim. Funaki's 9 rebounds were also big, with a couple of them leading directly to key three point shots.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, eternally ascending into the stratosphere
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, MORE POWERRRRR
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, 25% from the floor and 1 assist despite improved shot selection
Thunder Plunderer: Justin Hamilton, due to Dieng's 6 TOs
Next Game: Versus the Chicago Bulls, Sunday, March 15th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!