Final Score: Thunder 117, Timberwolves 107
Points: Durant with 28, Green with 24, Kevin Love with 24
Rebounds: Love with 17, Sefolosha with 11
Assists: Westbrook with 14, Luke Ridnour with 7, Durant with 5
Back at full Strength, the Thunder once again looked like an offensive juggernaut. They had three guys score over 20, tallied 29 assists for the game, and shot 54.8%.
So why did I kind of hate the end result?
It was a tale of two halves. Let’s look at each one.
- The most important thing for the first half’s offensive production (65 points) was their 20 assists, 10 of which came from Westbrook. Westbrook only attempted a few shots in the first half, with a clear emphasis on getting everyone involved.
- They only had six turnovers in the first half.
- In the first half, the returning Jeff Green got out to a hot start, shooting 9-11 and scoring 18 points in his first game back. It was good to see him out there, and he did a great job early posting up and getting to the rim.
- The ball movement was excellent, often getting clean looks. This led to a first half shooting % well over 50%.
- They held Michael Beasley in check.
- All of this production went into an 11 point half time lead.
- This lead was mitigated somewhat by the fact that they allowed 51% shooting by the Wolves. This didn’t harm them yet, but it would eventually.
- Early in this half, things started to unravel. The Wolves began to assert themselves inside, damaging the Thunder on the boards.
- Kevin Love and Darko (DARKO!) hammered them in the paint for 45 combined points. The Thunder put up little resistance.
- Love cleaned up on the glass, totaling 17 boards, four of them offensive.
- An 18 point lead quickly became a six point deficit with under six minutes remaining in the 4th.
- The Thunder needed last minute clutch free throw shooting to close out the Wolves.
Here is my list of things that I thought would be key, and how they unfolded.
- Continue to focus on defensive end of the court. They allowed the Wolves to shoot 50% from the field, 47.1% from 3-point range.
- Defensive rebounding. Pretty abysmal. As noted, Love grabbed 17 boards, 4 offensive. The Thunder’s leading rebounder was Sefolosha, with 11. Rebounding monster Ibaka had one.
- Stay cool on the 3′s. The Thunder did a satisfactory job here, limiting themselves to 13 attempts, making 5. 38% is a manageable number.
- Don’t let Durant and Green press offensively. It appeared that the two got started hot and then wore down as the game progressed. Green had 18 in the first half and four in the second, despite playing 39 minutes. Durant actually did very well in the passing game, getting five assists. He didn’t press two much, and relied mostly on his ability to get to the line.
- Don’t forget about Harden. They forgot Harden. He was a virtual non-factor, scoring five points. He did manage three steals, but he was merely an afterthought on offense.
- Westbrook needs a better 4th quarter. Westbrook’s 4th was much better than previous games, and his 14 assists shone. He was also much more patient with his shot, and getting 20 points off only 14 attempts was a good ratio for a PG.
- Play loose. Offensively, they played a strong game, as 117 points and a 10 point win would attest. Most important, they tallied 29 team assists on 40 made field goals, which means that an assist contributed to a bucket 73% of the time. The one-on-one shot taking was greatly pared down.
So why am I not happy?
It really felt like a lot of the positive things they grew from during the past few games were tossed out the window. The sticking point was their softness on defense after playing tough for two games. The Wolves scored 107, a game after the Thunder only gave up 81 to the Bucks. To me, the biggest difference is Green. I think that the team can get away with one soft forward on defense (Durant) but they can’t get away with two. Ibaka is a huge defensive improvement over Green, and by Ibaka taking a seat for most of the game, the Thunder lost both strong defense as well as rebounding. The fact that their leading rebounder was Sefolosha (by a lot) is cause for concern.
And yet, as much as I gripe about Green, there he was knocking down the critical 3-pointer with 54 seconds to go, which effectively won the game.
My complaint remains though; what they give up for Green’s 10 extra points per game over Ibaka just doesn’t seem to be worth what they lose in defense and rebounding. With Green out, they weren’t hurting for offense (115, 116 against Jazz, Rockets respectively). Green proved he can score in bunches in no time at all, which would make him perfect for that 6th man position. Over extended periods though, he disappears.
Let’s finish on a positive note – Sefolosha is really starting to play strong. He is a complimentary scorer, and tonight he shot 5-5 for 13 points. As noted above, he snagged the Thunder’s high rebound total with 11, exceptional in a game like this with such good rebounders present. Most importantly, he hit a clutch jumper late in the 4th coming off of a curl into the lane. Without hesitation, he caught the entry pass, rose up, and knocked it down. For a guy who was very timid at the start of the season, that was a great example of how far he has come.
Next Game: Wednesday, November 24 at 8:00PM against Dallas Mavericks