The Oklahoma City Thunder finally won an easy one, 106-88, against the Detroit Pistons. This is the type of game the Thunder have been desperately searching for over the last three weeks. In that time frame, there was, what amounted to be, a dark cloud hanging over the franchise. A feeling of inevitability that this was how the season was going to play itself out over the next 5 months. And while one game certainly doesn’t change things, it has to definitely help the team’s psyche a bit. Its akin to a jump shooter seeing a jump shot go in. It gives the team a memory surge of what they should be doing, instead of focusing on how they lost yet another close game.
So what was so different about this game? For starters, the Thunder did a great job of defending the two areas of worth on the floor, the three-point line and the paint. The Pistons didn’t make their first 3-pointer until 6:35 remained in the 3rd quarter. They wouldn’t make another one for the rest of the evening, as they finished 1-19 for the game. That’s 5% from deep. Let that sink in a minute. In an NBA where the 3-point shot is life, the Thunder held the Pistons to just one 3-pointer in a game. Yes, the Pistons are the worst team in the league at making 3’s. But that doesn’t matter. It was still a helluva defensive performance.
Secondly, the Thunder allowed 52 points in the paint. In their last meeting, the Pistons scored 60 points in the paint and basically got anything they wanted against the Thunder’s porous defense. This game: much different story. The Thunder switched everything and kept the Pistons in front of them for most of the evening. The Pistons were never able to consistently exploit the mismatches, and that caused the Pistons into some uncomfortable spots offensively. The difference between 52 and 60 points may not seem like much, but it was in how the Thunder defended the penetration that won the game for them tonight.
On the other side of the floor, the Thunder have this guy by the name of Russell Westbrook. You may have heard of him. Well, he triple doubled once again, for the 7th time this season. His totals of 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists brought his career triple double total to 44. That number ties him for the active lead in career triple doubles with LeBron James who has played five more seasons than Westbrook.
But the offensive MVP of the evening may have been Anthony Morrow. Even though his minutes haven’t been consistent this season, Morrow has remained the consummate profession, laying in wait for his opportunity. As head coach Billy Donovan said of Morrow after the game, “From my perspective, with him, I give him a lot of credit because as a veteran and a guy that’s been in this league as a consummate professional, he comes every single day, ready and understanding the length and the time they need. He always keeps himself ready. Same with Nick Collison. I never have to worry about, like, ‘Okay, these guys haven’t played in a while. Are they ready?’ These guys do a great job of taking care of themselves.”
And that opportunity came tonight for Morrow in weird fashion. Yes, he made his customary three 3-pointers. But the Thunder used him in more of a stretch-4 capacity tonight, posting him up on various possessions. Lost in Morrow’s ability to shoot 3’s is the fact that he’s a solid scorer and play-maker. He has the ability to make shots from anywhere on the floor. And tonight, he did most of his damage from the paint, to the tune of 21 points.
It’s just one game, but the Thunder needed to taste this type of victory again. It got a little hairy there in the 3rd quarter, as the Pistons brought the Thunder lead down to 4 several times, but for the most part, the Thunder had control of this game from the outset. The question from here becomes: Do the Thunder build off of this, or do they sink back into their more recent ways?
- Stan Van Gundy on Westbrook before the game: “If you look at Westbrook’s game last night (against the Nuggets), he certainly was able to take over with his scoring, but the guy is getting close to 20 assists. It’s crazy. So, the ball is in his hands, but he’s willing to share it. Probably playing the best, overall, that he’s played in his career.”
- Besides his offense, what other reason did Billy Donovan give as to why Morrow stayed on the floor: “I’ve been really impressed and pleased with how hard he’s competing on the defensive end of the floor. He had a hard cover tonight against Caldwell-Pope, and I thought he did a really good job. He had to guard some different people like Harris and Morris, and he hung in there and did a good job.” With Morrow, it’s always been about competing on that end of the floor.
- Russell Westbrook got his triple double with 3:36 left in the 3rd quarter. He started the game focusing on defense(!) and rebounding, grabbing 5 in the first quarter. Asked about being tied for 6th on the all-time triple double list, Westbrook’s response was very Westbrook: “I am happy we won. That is the most important part for me, to be able to do that. But I definitely don’t take that for granted. Like I said before, every night I step on the floor I try to compete at a high level and I am thankful that I can play the game that I love ever night.”
- If you were wondering whether posting Morrow up was part of the game plan, it wasn’t. Donovan said it was all about Westbrook recognizing a mismatch and exploiting it.
- The Pistons had just 11 assists tonight. With the Thunder switching everything, the Pistons were forced into a lot of isolation situation, which is definitely not their strong suit, especially with Reggie Jackson being out.
- Adams always seems to get up for games against Drummond. Tonight he had 16 points and 9 rebounds compared to 10 points and 8 rebounds for Drummond. This may be blasphemous, but I think Adams is more athletic version of Kendrick Perkins, in that he does great against athletic brutes. Just look back at the games he’s played against Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Marc Gasol. He either dominates or keeps them at bay. The thing that separates Adams and Perkins, though, is that Adams can step out and defend a wing if need be.
- The Thunder bench outscored Detroit’s 48 to 23. Go bench!
- This victory was so good, it had Victor Oladipo auditioning for The Voice in the locker room.
Next up: On the road against the Knicks on Monday