Durant, Westbrook Save the Thunder in Gotham
By hook or by crook, the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied back from being down 11 points in the fourth quarter to secure a 128-122 overtime victory against the New York Knicks Tuesday night. Kevin Durant scored a season-high 44 points, including 22 points from the start of the fourth quarter through the duration of the game. Russell Westbrook added 30 points of his own in the victory. The Thunder needed everything Durant and Westbrook had to offer because they allowed the Knicks to hang around much longer than they should have.
The Thunder weren’t able to truly experience life without Andre Roberson in their matchup against the Knicks. It appeared as if the Thunder were doomed going up against Carmelo Anthony, but the Thunder dodged a bullet with Anthony sitting out due to a sore left knee. Instant success, automatic W, right? Well …
The Thunder gave up 34 points in the opening quarter, allowing the Knicks to shoot 56.5 percent from the field. New York ended up scoring 63 points in the first half. The game marked the second in a row where OKC allowed their opponent to score at least 60 in the opening half (Brooklyn scored 60 on Monday). OKC allowed New York to shoot with confidence from 3-point range and allowed them to make numerous trips to the free throw line early, both recipes for disaster.
OKC forced just two turnovers in the opening half but quickly corrected that to start the third quarter. They forced four turnovers in the first four minutes of the third quarter, but it felt like the horse was already out of the barn. OKC allowed New York to gather momentum, forcing heroics from Durant and Westbrook late in the game to force bonus basketball. Things look problematic for the Thunder with Roberson forced to sit for an extended period of time.
Full disclosure: I’ve been less than impressed with Roberson’s game when I’ve watched him. That’s mainly due to his deficiencies on offense. There’s not much to write home about when you look at his numbers: 4.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game. Roberson takes quite a lot of grief for his lack of consistent shooting, but it’s important to remember that’s clearly not where his bread is buttered. The team allows just 97.5 points per 100 possessions this season with Roberson on the floor. That number spikes up to 103.2 per 100 possessions when Roberson is off the floor.
Roberson is helpful as a team defender, but he has really held his own as an individual defender this season. Out of all guards that have played at least 25 games this season, Roberson ties for fourth in terms of opponent field goal percentage. Roberson has held the man he’s guarded to just 37.8 percent shooting from the field this season. This isn’t to say that throwing Roberson out on the floor is the true elixir for what ails the Thunder, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have him out there, though.
OKC seems to be playing with fire way too much right now defensively. If it weren’t for the Knicks deciding that Arron Afflalo was their only option on offense, Tuesday’s game might have had a different result. The Thunder will be without their defensive stopper for at least three weeks. An already glaring concern in terms of defense is only likely going to get magnified during this stretch. One things is becoming quite apparent, the Thunder will be missing Roberson over the next few weeks.
- It feels like the Thunder got away with one and probably should have lost the game in regulation. I understand Melo wasn’t in uniform, but there had to be something better than hammering the ball to Arron Afflalo in isolation down the stretch. That absolutely killed the Knicks.
- Serge Ibaka earns the totally nonexistent dirty work award for the game. He finished a with a game and season-high 17 rebounds, including some huge putbacks in overtime.
- Once again, Billy Donovan opted to go without Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka to start the fourth quarter. The Knicks went on to score eight straight points. OKC has been burned by this strategy way too many times now. This substitution pattern to start the final quarter needs to be put out to pasture.
- Dion Waiters started in place of Roberson. This starting gig for Waiters is scheduled to last at least two games. I would say that the results were relatively favorable in this first look at Waiters with the starters.
- That said, Waiters did hit the top corner of the backboard as he tried to beat the shot clock on a right corner 3-point attempt in the third quarter. Maybe he did that in honor of Roberson, who did that earlier this season (from the left corner).
- Much was made in the lead-up to this game when Durant called Kristaps Porzingis a unicorn due to his unique combination of size and skills. It’s really incredible to see a guy his size put the ball on the floor with ease. If he’s able to stay healthy, the Knicks have found themselves a gem.
- While he’s a truly special and unique weapon on offense, there are times where Westbrook is just an animal.
- Just to check in on Enes Kanter: he still struggled defensively. Not a good trip to the Big Apple for Kanter.
- Outside of Cameron Payne (12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, 4-of-5 from 3), OKC’s bench was abysmal. Seriously, the rest of the bench shot 2-of-10 from the field for seven points. The Knicks had a total of 58 points.
Next up: At Minnesota on Wednesday.