Final Score: Thunder 95, Hornets 89
En lieu of the normal stat highlights, here is the key statistical breakdown of the game:
Sefolosha – 5
Westbrook – 5
Durant – 11
Green – 7
Krstic – 7
Ibaka – 11
Team total: 56
Rebounding wins games.
It’s a good thing too, because through three quarters, the Thunder were at risk of falling apart again.
Here are a few things that I noted during the halftime break:
- The point guard battle, one which I greatly anticipated, was relatively close. Chris Paul had 10 points and six assists, while Westbrook had eight and seven, respectively. However, Westbrook also had four turnovers already, which I believe hindered the team from having greater than a mere two point halftime lead.
- At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, the ball movement was terrible. All shots came on the perimeter, often with only one pass and then a quick three.
- When the Thunder finally did start hitting some three’s, they gave it all back during some sloppy play. During a second quarter burst by the Hornets, The Thunder gave up three quick “And-1’s” to Emeka Okefor on easy baskets. Instead of having a double digit lead, New Orleans was able to counter the Thunder’s latter good shooting in the 2nd.
- Kevin Durant’s offense was completely one-dimensional. It pains me to say it, and it pains me to watch it. But there are stretches where his offense really hurts the team. He really needs to play fewer minutes, both for his own stamina as well as the good of the team.
- Rebounding was the only thing that kept them afloat, and they were fortunate to have a lead.
When the second half started, it appeared things were about to unravel. Paul got his team in a grove and they burst out to a lead, greatly helped by the Thunder only scoring 6 points in the first six and a half minutes of the 3rd. At this point, I really thought the team might be folding up shop. Their offensive flow was terrible, they weren’t getting anything out of Durant or Green, and Paul had the Hornets rolling.
And once again, the Thunder figured out that to dig deep, you have to have meaningful possessions.
Durant started to get deeper into the post position. He got to the free throw line, he got an “and-1,” and he got a short jumper, scoring eight of the team’s final 10 points in the quarter. Suddenly, a team on the ropes has hope. Their offensive complexion changes completely when Durant remembers that he’s like 15 feet tall when he raises his arms and jumps.
That alone would be something worth commending, but then the Thunder really got it going on the defensive end. This number staggered me so much that I had to double-check it – with only 34 seconds left in the 4th, the Hornets, a team that prides itself on speed and flow, had amassed 14 points. After they amassed their largest lead of the 4th, at 76-70 with just over nine minutes to go, the Thunder outscored them 21-5. You win games with rebounding and defense. This is exactly how the Thunder won.
- I’m beginning to see what Westbrook is doing with Durant, and it is commendable. He knows that Durant has to be The Man for this team to do anything. And so, Westbrook feeds him and tries to get him going whenever he can. It is only when he doesn’t sense that Durant has his game working that Westbrook starts to press. Westbrook is a great teammate, and his dedication to getting Durant involved was perfectly illustrated in the 4th with 7:30 to go. Westbrook knocked the ball free from Willie Green and Durant recovered. Durant surged forward on the break, and then lofted a pretty pass right over the Hornets defender’s head to Westbrook, who was flying down the court. Westbrook, instead of going up for a contested layup, paused and waited for the trailing Durant. Westbrook dropped the ball to Durant, who then soared in for the dunk and a foul, which he converted at the free throw line. The play brought the Thunder within one and the house to its feet.
- James Harden’s final stat line won’t look like much, but I really enjoyed his game in the first half. I’m not sure why he didn’t get more minutes in the 2nd, when Jeff Green was really struggling offensively. At the break, he had four points, three rebounds two assists, one steal, and one block. They aren’t eye-popping, but to my eye they are all the little things that subtle players do to make the game easier for their teammates.
- I really loved Sefolosha’s play. Aside from a couple turnovers and a lazy foul on an Okefor score, he brought plenty to the table and took hardly anything off of it. 4-4 shooting, 2-2 FT’s, and 3-3 from 3-point range, to go along with 5 rebounds and two steals. Just a perfect compliment to the rest of the team’s efforts.
- Westbrook – eight turnovers? Ouch. He’s amazing, but he is careless at times.
- Ibaka chipped in with solid defense and 11 rebounds, but my word does his offensive game need some attention. Ibaka is good at two things now: shooting open jumpers from 15 feet and in, and layups/dunks. Any time they ask him to create off of a drive or post-move, they are asking for trouble.
- Westbrook had another sweet slam last night in the 2nd quarter, attacking the rim in the half-court set and throwing it down over Okefor and David West.
Next game: Wednesday, December 1 at New Jersey Nets; 7:00PM EST