In a total second half pounding, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to overcome the undermanned Charlotte Hornets, 109-95. The Hornets came into the night without star center Al Jefferson and valuable backup guard Jeremy Lamb. Nicholas Batum was added to the injury list during tonight's game, leaving during the mid-third quarter with a sprained big toe. This left Charlotte without three of their top five scorers, and made it hard for the Hornets to find offense from their role players. Batum's absence also took away a good deal of Charlotte's ballhandling. Thus, it's not surprising to learn that the Hornets finished the night with 16 turnovers to only 17 assists.
On the Thunder's end, it was smooth sailing. Russell Westbrook was double-teamed all night, which seems to be the norm these days. Westbrook took the opportunity to notch 15 assists. Some were to Durant off screens. Some were to Roberson, doing his thing on the baseline. Some were even to Adams and Ibaka, doing the usual pick and pop/roll thing. But Westbrook's actual shooting wasn't too good. The Hornets left Westbrook open on the perimeter all night and encouraged him to shoot off the dribble. Westbrook just wasn't on tonight, going 2 of 9 outside the paint. Defensively, I felt like Westbrook was a wash. Westbrook's 5 steals were awesome, but he switched off of Kemba too often. And those switches resulted in a lot of Kemba's baskets.
Kevin Durant continued his long streak of getting 20 points or more each game. It's really feeling like Durant is slowly, surely getting back to his former MVP level. Tonight, we saw Durant get baskets in just about every way possible. Drives to the rim around screens. Catch and shoot shots coming off of screens. Transition play. Post ups on P.J. Hairston on Jeremy Lin. Catch and shoot threes. And of course, the risky dribbles inside for fouls. Durant finished with 26 points and 5 assists, and was clearly left alone by the Hornet defense. Marvin Williams and P.J. Hairston as primary defenders for KD? Comeon.
Kanter scored 12 points with 6 rebounds, which is a line we've seen from him before. But Kanter hit a three, which we haven't seen him do this season. And Kanter's defense was even more impressive. The Hornets were trying to exploit Kanter with Hawes, but Kanter didn't allow many baskets. I also liked the effort Kanter gave in running around screens and closing out threes that weren't his. Kanter even had a block on Troy Daniels! The Hornets don't have a true center off the bench, so Kanter's success makes sense.
Kyle Singler was incredible tonight. And by incredible, I mean that the Hornet defense left him alone on nearly every play. This allowed Singler to hit three threes from the corners tonight. Singler even had a surprise drive at one point, somehow striding across the lane for a Jabbar-esque skyhook. I'm not even kidding.
How did the Thunder win this game?
At the end of the first half, the Thunder were up 7. At the end of the third, the Thunder were up 20. The lead stayed above 14 for the entire fourth quarter. So it's really hard to pinpoint one exact moment where it really felt like the Thunder stole the momentum. The whole game was a slow realization of the Thunder's victory, if that makes any sense. But it was definitely the Thunder's starters that set the tone.
In the third quarter, the Hornets were held to 0-4 shooting from beyond the arc, and 3-8 shooting in the paint. The Thunder were serious about protecting the perimeter and rim. The Hornets simply don't have a player that needs to be double teamed, so the Thunder had no problem switching to constantly keep every man guarded. Also, the Thunder went big with Adams, Kanter, and Ibaka all night. This allowed OKC to dominate the boards, and accordingly, the Hornets got hardly any second chance points. It's also important to keep in mind that the Hornets were going very small at times. With Batum and Lamb out, Brian Roberts and Troy Daniels got minutes. Both are point guard sized, and played next to the already point guard sized Lin and Walker. This didn't bode well for Charlotte's rebound chances.
- Durant and Westbrook didn't play in the fourth quarter tonight. Glorious victory!
FiveSix straight wins, woo!
- Let's not forget that this was the Thunder's third game in four nights, and that they just came in from high-altitude Denver. Mad props to this team!
- Dion Waiters didn't have a fantastic line. Only 5 points on 2 of 9 shooting, with 3 assists and 4 turnovers. But, again, I felt like Waiters played the right way tonight. Waiters attacked the basket, and all of the shots he took were relatively open. There was no point where I felt like Dion took over the offense unnecessarily. Moreover, Waiters recognized Payne and Singler open in the early fourth quarter for a couple of critical baskets. Waiters' two assists came right after a technical, which shows his composure. And yeah, Waiters took a couple of questionable shots in garbage time, but he has license to do what he wants there.
- Steven Adams continued his terrific defense of the rim. Starting Charlotte center Cody Zeller wasn't much for the Funaki to deal with, and finished with a weak 0-3 line. Adams is really becoming an offensive threat, scoring double digits in six of his last 10 games. With Ibaka providing nearly the same offensive output as Adams, you have to wonder if Adams will exceed Ibaka's scoring ability at any point. Adams was pretty basic tonight though. Probably the most memorable part of Adams night were his three offensive fouls in the second half.
This gave Adams six fouls in total, and forced him to sit early. I felt like it was a little bit silly, and hope it doesn't continue to be an issue.Adams was pulled after four fouls in total.
- Cameron Payne was kinda the same as Waiters. 3 of 8 shooting, 3 assists. I liked Payne's decision making, but his open shots just weren't going in. Lots of growing pains, and I felt like Payne was a bit of a defensive liablity tonight as well. But Payne really stepped it up in the fourth, hitting a mid-range shot around a screen and hitting a catch and shoot three. Love the confidence Donovan showed in Payne by keeping him on during the fourth quarter.
- Andre Roberson had a solid first half, scoring in transition, running baseline, and on a corner three. But there wasn't much of Dre in the second half, as the Hornets went small. Admirable job on Batum, who was 0-4 tonight.
- Serge Ibaka was key in wrapping up Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky scored on two straight plays in the third quarter, and I thought he might become a source of offense for Charlotte. But Ibaka was on him for most of the game, and held him in check. Kaminsky finished with a good 6-12 line, but a good chunk of his success came with Ibaka off the floor.
- I particularly liked Ibaka's jump stop hook in transition tonight. Also, I liked Ibaka's three. He needs to hit more of those, especially considering he took four tonight. I guess Serge isn't abandoning the three pointer after all, having taken two attempts or more in his past seven games.
- Also, Ibaka got a technical in the fourth quarter for getting angry at a foul call the refs made. Kinda lame if you ask me.
- Mitch McGary had a nice cameo appearance at the end of the game. McGary slapped Donovan's hand as he came in, according to Brian Davis. A couple of nice scores on Frank Kaminsky, though McGary gave up a fancy Kaminsky spin move on the other end. Also, McGary missed a three.
- Nick Collison didn't appear tonight. After being more or less a part of the regular rotation, Collison has been absent from three of the Thunder's past 5 games.
- Anthony Morrow was also AWOL. Morrow has not appeared in the past three games.
- Durant, Westbrook, Payne, and Waiters are the four Thunder players to shoot under the team average tonight. They're also the only Thunder players with three assists or more. Shows you how much the Hornets were pressuring.
- Kemba Walker finished with a fair amount of points, but where were his assists? I commend him for periodically exploiting mismatches though.
- Jeremy Lin was a solid presence for the Hornets off the bench, constantly running into the lane both on and off ball. Dion Waiters isn't the most attentive defender in the world, and Lin certainly took advantage of that.
- The Thunder had 6 dunks tonight. I have no idea if that's high or low, but it feels like a lot.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, an endless flow of scoring
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, whom kept his cool tonight
Thunder Blunder: Dion Waiters, just because he needs to execute better
Thunder Plunderer: Kemba Walker, 21 points and no fourth quarter minutes
Next Game: At the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, January 22nd, 7:30 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!