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The Win in a Nutshell
What's defense? The Oklahoma City Thunder have crushed the Los Angeles Lakers, 127-117. OKC was without Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and Andre Roberson tonight. Put together, those four are some of the Thunder's best players on a defensive end. As a result, this game was a barnburner from start to finish. Both teams trapped frequently on defense, leading to lots of fast breaks and open shots on the perimeter. To illustrate just how offense-happy this game was, here's a few facts....
- Both teams shot over 51% from the field.
- Both teams shot over 47% from three.
- Both teams combined for 50 fast break points and 124 points in the paint.
Despite the fact that those stats might make it seem like the Thunder and Lakers were evenly matched, they weren't. OKC had a serious advantage on the boards, more than doubling the Lakers final rebound total.
Bigs get the job done
Enes Kanter and Steven Adams were thus the foundation behind tonight's win. Both of them finished with a double double and shot well over 50%. Adams was the more basic of the two, doing all of his work exclusively in pick and rolls and off of o-boards. Enes Kanter was a little bit more varied, using his range a couple of times. Kanter's most impressive feat was a coast-to-coast drive that I'm sure only the Lakers could have allowed.
Still, Kanter's defense was pretty bad. I didn't notice Kanter's speed being exploited on the perimeter so much as his inability to protect the rim. Kanter was usually too slow to deal with the quicker Laker guards near the bucket. Also, Kanter registered 5 turnovers tonight, mostly as a result of being stranded in the high post. Whenever Kanter refused the outside shot, he hesitated or couldn't make a tough pass into the low post, and ended up turning the ball over.
I really don't want to rag on Kanter for what he did tonight though. In fact, Enes' first quarter was easily the best I've ever seen him play. I mean, in the first seven minutes of the first quarter, Enes Kanter registered 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists. Kanter would grab the required two extra rebounds within the quarter, and became only the second player this season to register a double double within a quarter. By the way, all of those points were entirely in the paint.
Westbrook Sits Fourth
The great first quarter by Enes Kanter was no mistake. Russell Westbrook played a huge part in it, registering 5 points and 4 assists of his own during that same 7 minutes. Westbrook was using the pick and roll to great effect all night long. Whenever the Lakers would protect the paint, it was always an easy pass to Singler, Morrow, or Waiters in the corner.
After that whirlwind first quarter, Westbrook continued to dominate the game. Russ got his usual scores in transition and at the rim off the pick and roll for the rest of the first half. Westbrook was also able to get a basket via a clarkson post-up, which is good news if you're hoping Russ will bully smaller guards in the playoffs. It took until the Thunder were up 15 before the Lakers actually started doubling Russ and causing some problems. But Westbrook soon recognized that the Lakers were leaving shooters open one pass away, and registered four assists in the last 2:21 of the second.
Westbrook's third quarter was marked by some really physical play with Jeremy Lin, and quite a few transition baskets for Jordan Clarkson. But despite the Lakers offensive success in this quarter, Westbrook was just as successful as ever on the other end. It was mostly pick and roll and transition stuff again, but Westbrook did have a nice off-ball play where he popped out for a three off of a McGary screen. The Thunder would end the fourth with a 12 point lead, and their lead only dipped to 10 in the final seconds of the game. As a result, Westbrook got to take the fourth quarter off and prepare for the Spurs tomorrow.
The Dion Waiters Rennaissance
The inefficient has become efficient, and the maligned have become the beloved. In other words, Dion Waiters is finally learning the value of becoming James Harden. In the paint tonight, Waiters was 7 of 10. From three, Waiters was 2 of 2. From mid-range, Waiters was 1 of 4. I'm pretty sure that says it all, though I don't think Dion will ever give up on his stepback.
In any case, Dion's ability off the dribble is something to behold. I saw him crossover Wayne Ellington. I saw him use an in and out move to get past Jordan Clarkson. I even saw him nail a stepback against Jeremy Lin. I know all of this doesn't sound impressive, but if Dion is supposed to be playing against benches anyway, these are the types of players he'll have to blow past. And even if Dion doesn't have the advantage off the dribble, he can score in other ways. Waiters finished off the pick and roll at least once tonight, I saw him exploit a mismatch with Ryan Kelly, and two of his threes were catch and shoots from the corner. This isn't a case of Derek Fisher hitting open shots against bad opponents. This is a player finding his groove, ready to make his mark with a playoff team.
- Byron Scott wasn't coaching tonight, due to the passing of his mother. Paul Pressey was his replacement, and as far as I can tell, this was his first game as an NBA head coach.
- Jeremy Lin scored tonight because he's really patient with the ball and shoots when he gets space. Lin is also good at navigating around bigs, both with and without the ball. Lin also had some stuff in transition because they're the Lakers. I don't think it's impossible to see Lin on a winning team, but he'd have to be surrounded by some excellent shooters and pocket pickers.
- Mitch McGary was an interesting case tonight. There were a couple of things that I really liked. McGary's best play was the fast break bucket off of a rebound. But the bank shot from about 8 feet away was really classic, as was the fake from the same spot a few plays later, and subsequent pass to the open Steven Adams for an easy score. Still, McGary made a lot of dumb mistakes tonight. Offensive goaltending. Traveling in the high post. Leaving Ed Davis after a rebound, and allowing free points. Also, McGary's defense was abominable as usual Both Tarik Black and Ed Davis were able to face him up for points. McGary was also not very good about meeting his man in the post. Still, all in all, McGary's performance is pretty much a wash. Good offense, bad defense. Good hustle, bad decision making. I'll take it out of my team's fifth big man, sheesh.
- Jeremy Lamb sent up a really embarrassing airball in the first quarter tonight, from really deep. Confidence, baby! After a short stint in which he missed two threes, Lamb wasn't seen again until the late fourth.
- I say that the rebounds won the game, but Westbrook is a master of making timely steals just when the Thunder need it to keep momentum going. Both of Russ' steals tonight came on the heels of 6-0 Thunder runs.
- Jordan Clarkson is a legitimate prospect. A lot of Clarkson's points tonight were easy, as the Thunder readily offered up mismatches for the Lakers to exploit in an effort to apply pressure and protect the rim. But there were a few advanced moves included as well, such as a behind the back pass to Jabari Brown for a really clutch three. Clarkson also had an impressive looking And 1 layup over Kanter at the end of the third.
- Wayne Ellington had the worst game ever. I saw him fire up three really hard mid-range shots. All in the face of the D, all early in the shot clock. I also saw Wayne slacking on defense a couple times. Once Ellington barely bothered to defend a three in the corner, and another time I saw him try to defend Westbrook at three quarters court, allowing an open Augustin three.
- Kyle Singler continues to be the invisible starter, hardly ever effecting the game on either end of the floor. Singler shot well and made good decisions, though. As long as he spaces the floor and plays smart D, that's all we need.
- In the first 9 minutes of the third, the Thunder had 6 turnovers for 10 Laker points. That's mostly LA's pressure game stranding OKC's bigs and frustrating OKC's guards.
- D.J. Augustin continues to be a great asset. Great late game three, great pair of backcourt steals in the second quarter, and excellent distribution throughout the game.
- Interesting quote from Russ that was aired on FSOK tonight: "Based on personnel, we definitely do a few different things based on how the game is going. Some switching helps us late in the game. Our bigs do a great job of guarding opposite team's guards and it's good for us."
Thunder Wonder: Steven Adams, whom was nearly perfect in his time on the floor
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, because he who controls the rebounds controls the game
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb, 0-5. The best part about it is that he's signed through next year.
Thunder Plunderer: Jordan Clarkson, the player who will be overhyped times ten next year because he's a Laker
Next Game: At the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, March 25th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!