The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Detroit Pistons at home, 106-88. With both teams playing on the 2nd game of a back-to-back, it was clear that the team with the greater energy and focus would prevail. Less than 24 hours after OKC’s overtime win in Denver, the Thunder controlled the game almost from the opening tip and earned a satisfying win to bring their overall record to 10-8.
Russell Westbrook led the way with his 7th triple-double of the season, recording a 17-15-13 on the night. Despite a poor shooting night, Westbrook excelled at setting up his teammates throughout, as Steven Adams and Anthony Morrow in particular had two of their best games of the season, scoring 16 and 21, respectively. The Pistons were led by Tobias Harris, who finished with 21 points and 4 rebounds.
Aside from Westbrook’s uncommonly common play, the defining feature of this win was how the team’s defense was much more engaged and aggressive throughout the contest, and because of it, they finally won the rebounding battle (43-32) and limited the Pistons to 1-19 from 3-point range. To be sure, Detroit is not a good 3-point shooting team, but OKC’s lackadaisical defense against poor 3-point shooting teams has frequently turned them into good 3-point shooting teams, often spelling disaster. Not on this night however, and the defensive energy was a big reason why OKC held a double digit lead for most of the night.
There were two key stretches of this game - the opening quarter, where OKC finally got off to a strong start, and the 3rd quarter, when all of their hard work was starting to crumble. In the first, it was a pleasant surprise to see the OKC defense playing aggressive ball, perhaps in part because they knew they were playing a likely fatigued Pistons team (to say nothing of themselves). More importantly however, in the 3rd quarter where we often see OKC swoon and lose whatever positive progress they have managed up to that point, they sustained their edge, but not without some discomfort. Late in the 2nd, the Thunder had led by 18, but slowly the Pistons patiently worked their way back into the game and with 4:31 left in the 3rd, trailed by only 1 possession, 65-62. After some back and forth, it was Morrow’s strong offensive performance that gave OKC the breathing room they needed, with Morrow scoring 7 of the team’s final 12 points in the quarter to head into the 4th up by 9.
Oddly enough, if we’ve learned anything about this version of the Thunder, it is that they actually close games quite well, and tonight was no different. After the Thunder pushed their lead to 10 at 82-72, the lead only grew the rest of the game and for a change, Donovan, Westbrook, and the Thunder crew could breathe easy as the game drew to a close.
- A big reason why OKC got out to their early lead is because the Thunder did a great job establishing Adams as a scoring option early, which eventually opened up the shooting lanes for Morrow, Oladipo, and others from long range. Adams finished the first half with a game-high 14 points and even though he only finished with 16, his attentive production is clearly a harbinger of OKC’s offensive balance. Hopefully it is a sign of things to come, not the least of which would be a healthier Funaki.
- In regards to Anthony Morrow, my theory is that Billy Donovan said to his charges in the pre-game, “let’s start posting up A-Mo,” which was followed by many confused looks. But that’s exactly what happened, because Morrow got his highest minute total of the season and responded in kind by playing inside and outside, including some heady play passing out of the post. Hey, it’s a weird season (as friend of WTLC Jon Hamm points out):
The Thunder's best 3-point shooter is Joffrey Lauvergne and they are posting up Anthony Morrow.— Jon (@JonMHamm) November 27, 2016
Joking aside, Morrow is an elite 3-point shooter who has been living on Waiters Island so far this season, and I’m sure it has been frustrating for the perpetually upbeat sniper. Perhaps he’s not always playable against other aggressive 2-guards, but if OKC can find a way to get Morrow locked into the offense, his impact is considerable (OKC shot 50.6% for the game, following last night’s 50.5% shooting performance).
- One serious black eye - 14-26 from the free throw line, with Westbrook only getting there twice. That kind of stat will get you beat on a lot of nights. Thankfully, not this one.
- In case you missed it during the broadcast, Westbrook has now tied LeBron James for career triple-doubles at 44, but doing so in 395 fewer games:
Russell Westbrook is now tied with LeBron James in career triple-doubles.— ESPN (@espn) November 27, 2016
It's taken one of them a lot fewer games. pic.twitter.com/PTwLvJ1zow
Despite the poor shooting performance, Westbrook uncorked his patented Euro-Russ* on Andre Drummond:
*The “Euro-Russ” is a super-fast Euro-step move followed by the player then emulating said move he just did while running back down the court.
- Victor Oladipo (or as you have probably noticed, the guy I now call “Odelay”) is quietly finding his groove with 18-6-2 off of 6-10 shooting, and most importantly, zero turnovers. The TO’s was a cause for concern early on as he seemed to be over-dribbling, especially in the PnR, but as of late he’s been in command of his ball handling, even as he’s been called upon to run point more (Semaj Christon only played 4 minutes).
- Jerami Grant. When he winds up for a dunk...let’s just say I’m a fan.
Angry dunk from Jerami Grant? What he does. https://t.co/Xdod5ajIsk— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) November 27, 2016
- What to think long term of this game? Let’s just call it a good step in the right direction.
- Old Fashioned, in case you were wondering. What liquor? Take a guess in the comments.