It was a night where the basketball was an afterthought, where fans and players alike clearly had other things in their minds.
With the tragic death of Ingrid Williams on Wednesday, moving forward to play a game felt both strange and necessary at the same time. Like Billy Donovan said, it’s what you do. But at the same time, with hearts elsewhere, getting excited and cheering and pumping your fist and all the things that happen didn’t quite seem right.
It’s probably why the game started with an almost hushed atmosphere, with both teams working to try and manifest some intensity and energy. Eventually, the competition took over, and so did the Thunder, rolling to an easy pre-All-Star win.
Kevin Durant said it best:
“Basketball is great and we love the game so much, but that’s not really what’s important. Relationships and family, those things, that’s what’s most important in life. Not the latest trends, or the fashion world. All that stuff is cool, but the stuff that lasts forever is relationships, family and love. Love is something that’s going to last a lifetime. Those things we have to hold on to. Monty exemplifies that every single day, just love and caring and serving people. We love him for that and definitely feel for him right now.”
Let’s just do the notes.
- Again, the feel was unmistakable to start this one. Almost like both teams were trying to play with energy that didn’t exist. The crowd was unusually late arriving, which didn’t help.
- Westbrook with 23-9-10. He didn’t play the fourth. He’s had four triple-doubles in three quarters this season; the rest of the NBA has five total.
- Durant came out pretty aggressive. Had 11 in the first quarter, 16 at halftime, and finished with 23 and six assists.
- Serge Ibaka with a very strong game, on both ends. I realize Ibaka has become a bit of a target recently, because his box score stats have slipped a bit, but to me, he’s been very good all season. He looks like a guy, at least to me, that is less concerned with numbers and much more disciplined and committed to doing his job. Sure, he’s not shooting the ball all that well, but don’t judge him by blocks and rebounds. And like he showed tonight, he still has more than enough ability to play a very good game (18 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and three assists).
- Around this time last season is when Ibaka really got going, before he had knee surgery. Just saying.
- Also, the Thunder aren’t trading him. So have fun with the Trade Machine to your heart’s content, but might as well put in Durant or Westbrook while you’re at it.
- Those ATOs in the first half. Pretty good, Billy Donovan. Pretty good. A lot of Westbrook-Durant misdirection stuff, but all at the basket. Even the one that didn’t work before halftime was wonderfully designed, with a backdoor lob attempt to Durant barely getting tipped away.
- Nick Collison played four minutes in the second quarter, and didn’t score a point or grab a rebound. But his defense for the second unit was excellent, closing out on a number of would-be Ryan Anderson 3-point attempts.
- Steven Adams is a really, really good defensive center. Everyone notices his size and physicality, but he doesn’t get near enough credit for his versatility. He started the game on Anthony Davis and did far and away the best job on him tonight.
- Walking in tonight, I saw a kid, probably eight years old I’d guess, wearing a full Russell Westbrook uniform — jersey, shorts, shooting sleeve and even the compression knee pad leggings things he wears. Definitely made me aww.
- How about this stat from Elias: The West has three teams with 40+ wins at All-Star break. That’s never happened before for either conference.
- And the Thunder enter the break still nine games back of the Warriors. Insane.
- That’s 40-14 before the break, which is a darn impressive record. Forget the Warriors and the Spurs for just a second. Forty wins at the break is nothing to dismiss. Last season, the Thunder won 45 total, if you remember. Apparently, Kevin Durant helps in that regard.
- Another from Elias: Billy Donovan: 2nd rookie coach in history w/ 40+ wins at All-Star break (Steve Kerr 42-9 in 2014-15).
- The Thunder bench let loose after those garbage time Steve Novak 3s. Looked like some much-needed fun.
- Billy Donovan: “I just want to say first I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these last 24 hours. To see joy on their face and happiness when obviously the last 24 hours for all of us was a lot of sadness and heartache. I really appreciated the way they played the entire game. We didn’t get the best of starts, which I was a little concerned about, but we regrouped. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them having joy at that time. There’s been time for all of us to mourn and grieve and everybody handles that in their own way but I think in the heart of the game it was good to see them have that kind of enjoyment.”
Next up: All-Star Weekend