Nick Gallo recaps last night’s 127-117 win over the Clippers: “The Thunder’s defense buckled down in the second half after allowing nearly 53 percent shooting over the first 24 minutes. Part of it was being more disciplined on Williams’ pump fakes to prevent easy drives, another was that the Thunder’s guards were sharper getting back in front of the ball, which allowed Thunder bigs like Steven Adams to retreat back to DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. That contributed to a major turnaround in the rebounding column, and a shutdown of the Clippers’ second chance opportunities. “It really came down to our communication on the play before that,” Adams said. “Everyone did a pretty good job of executing our defense, which kind of let me stay on him, so it was big-to-big box outs. We did that a lot better.”
Moke Hamilton (USA Today) on Doc Rivers saying Paul George finally looks comfortable in OKC: “I think they’re more comfortable around each other,” Rivers said when asked what has caused the Thunder’s recent offensive improvement. “I think the biggest difference I see is Paul George. I just think he’s comfortable now,” the Clippers coach said. “Before, I thought Paul was always the third guy. He’s no longer the third guy.”
Geoff Herbert (Syracuse.com) on Carmelo Anthony passing Patrick Ewing on the all-time scoring list…and dropping an F-Bomb on live TV: “During a post-game interview with Fox Sports, Anthony accidentally dropped an F-bomb and another curse word when Westbrook snuck up behind him and squirted water. “Ah motherf—-r, s—,” Anthony said on live TV… Anthony’s also likely smiling as he passed former Georgetown and New York Knicks legend Patrick Ewing on the NBA all-time scoring list Thursday night. ‘Melo is now 21st overall with 24,829 points; Ewing notched 24,815 points in his pro career.”
Brett Dawson on Baker Mayfield attending last night’s game in LA: “I love them to death, but Blake (Griffin) got me the tickets,” Mayfield told The Oklahoman. “I got to be neutral.” With seats in the lower arena courtesy of the Clippers star — like Mayfield, an ex-Sooners great — Mayfield kept his rooting interest under wraps as he sat just a few seats from Russell Westbrook’s brother, Ray.”
Mayfield approached Paul George after the game: I assume he’ll print this tweet out and carry it around for motivation.
Russell Westbrook was named Western Conference Player of the Month for December: “Westbrook averaged a triple-double of 27.8 points (fourth in the NBA), 10.6 assists (tops in the NBA) and 10.2 rebounds (fourth in the West) as the Thunder went 12-5 for the month, including wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors. The 29-year-old guard posted six triple-doubles to improve his league-leading total to 12. He shot 50.0 percent or better from the field in seven of his last nine games for the month. On Dec. 22, Westbrook’s game-winning three-pointer capped a 30-point, 15-assist performance in a 120-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.”
Danny Chau on how Paul George is coming to life next to Russell Westbrook: “But as Westbrook has put an end to his game of deference (the man is averaging 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists in the past 10 games), so, too, has George. George is averaging 27.2 points on 61.5 percent shooting and 58.7 percent from 3 in six games since December 23, despite his usage rate remaining stagnant. He remains one of the best defensive wings in the league; George is a top-five small forward in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus, whose positional rankings include LeBron James, who spends most of his minutes at power forward. George was already having an excellent season in spite of his slump for most of the season; his almost superhuman efficiency since the holidays only raises the baseline for the Thunder.”
Rohan Nadkarni (SI) on why the Thunder no longer needs the MVP-version of Russell Westbrook: “Overall, Westbrook is still playing at a less efficient level than he was during his why-not-shoot-everytime MVP campaign, which is a scary thought. But how much of that inefficiency can be attributed to martyrball and how much of it should be attributed to the adjustment period with his new teammates? Russ appears to be adjusted better over the last month, and it’s resulted in a slight uptick in his shooting percentages.”
Zach Lowe (ESPN) has the Thunder’s variety on his list of things he likes/doesn’t like: “Last week, I wrote that Oklahoma City has precisely one crunch-time play beyond high pick-and-rolls for Russell Westbrook: a rote “Hawk” action in which Carmelo Anthony sets an off-ball pick for Paul George before flipping into a ball screen for Westbrook. Meanwhile, George curls around the other side for a potential catch-and-shoot jumper…. George got a layup Thursday against the Clippers by darting right down the middle instead of circling to the wing. On the very next possession, he mimicked the Abrines back-pedal and drilled a triple. Variety can be healthy. Who knew??”
Around the League: The first returns of NBA All-Star voting…. Gerald Green is getting a guaranteed contract in Houston…. Paul Pierce doesn’t want to share the spotlight with Isaiah Thomas…. Biggest risers/fallers in the 2018 NBA Draft…. How James Harden’s injury opens the MVP race.