You have to give the Thunder this: They definitely do possess the ability to turn something on — most of the time — to beat teams they should beat. (Let’s conveniently ignore the Brooklyn game for the sake of this point.)
The first three quarters were not wonderful, at least from the perspective the Wolves scored 28 in the first quarter, 36 in the second and 30 in the third. That’s 94 points in three quarters. And I had this sentence typed with about five minutes left: “They tightened the lid in the fourth, holding Minnesota to under 20 points in the fourth…” but then the quit guarding people and the Wolves finished the fourth with 29 anyway.
You could make a decent case that the Thunder simply were trying to coast in for a soft landing tonight coming off a difficult overtime win the night before in New York. They did sort of have the look of a team that knew it was going to win, and just was sort of getting there as easily as possible.
It was a little similar to the last game they played in Minnesota a couple weeks ago. Flirting with disaster, but in the end the elder team with the experience and knowledge of winning got it done. Kevin Durant hit some big crunchtime shots, the Thunder got just enough stops — I guess — and they got out of town.
But that’s letting them off too easy, especially when they’ve been saying the same things the past couple weeks. Billy Donovan called the defensive problems “self-inflicted wounds” on Tuesday, and there was more of it. Durant said he thought there was a lack of excitement and passion.
And you know what I’m sick of talking about? The defense. I’m sick of asking about it, I’m sick of hearing about it. Until something changes that proves otherwise, the accepted fact has to just be this is a mediocre defensive team that can say the right things but not do the right things. It might be a personnel issue, it might be simply an effort issue. Whatever it is, it’s apparently not changing.
Some Wolves numbers:
- Zach LaVine had 35 points on 14-17 shooting
- Gorgui Dieng had 21 on 10-13
- Andrew Wiggins had 20 on 8-14
- The Wolves hit only five 3s, all from LaVine
It’s stunning as to how LaVine and Dieng can somehow combine for 56 on 24-30 shooting, but it happened.
In this four game road trip, the Thunder gave up 106, 116, 122 and 123 points. That’s 116.7 points per game. The opposing offensive rating was 116.3. And a reminder: That was against the Mavs, the Nets, the Knicks (without Melo) and the Wolves. Yikes, you guys.
The Thunder look like a team that’s just decided to try and outscore people. And like the Mike Leach Texas Tech teams, that’s effective to win some games, but probably not good enough to get where they want.
- Enes Kanter was a complete non-factor last night. Tonight, he was highly effective. He was Westbrook’s buddy in the pick-and-roll all night, piling up 23 points on 10-16 shooting plus 10 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
- Westbrook played a nice game: 24 on 7-13, eight rebounds and 15 assists. That’s now FIVE 15-assist games this month for Westbrook. The rest of the NBA has six. (Rajon Rondo has four of them.)
- I thought Durant looked a little tired tonight. Until crunchtime. Then he looked like Kevin Durant.
- Cameron Payne took a blow to the head in the first half and only played five minutes because of concussion-like symptoms. D.J. Augustin played six minutes and scored two points.
- Hey, Nick Collison had three blocks. And eight points.
- If Dion Waiters could just play the Wolves every game, he’d be kind of a decent player. Had 16 on 6-14 shooting.
- Man, Serge Ibaka somehow just continues to be all over the place offensively. In 25 minutes, six points on 2-7 shooting plus four rebounds.
- Anthony Morrow with a nice spark in 13 minutes: 10 points on 4-6.
- LaVine did hit some tough ones. No doubt. But this isn’t a coincidence that keeps happening. There’s a reason players have a knack of going off against the Thunder. When you let NBA players get into a rhythm and build confidence, they can hit shots on you. Even once you decide to start defending them.
- I do think the Thunder might be a little gassed. January is known as one of the lowest energy months of the season, and they’ve had games coming in piles lately. I’d say let’s see how they look in February, but then again, they play more good teams next month. So who knows.
- Enough with playing the Wolves this season, right? (Checks schedule.) Oh, that is enough. That’s all four.
- I have a New York point I wanted to throw in here too: There’s this thing that always happens where media asks a high profile player about playing in their big fancy city or their big fancy arena, and then when said player says nice things, they go, “LOOGIT HERE HE’S COMING.” But here’s the thing: I was STOKED about going to MSG last night. I had a great time checking out NYC and seeing stuff. It’s an AWESOME city. The Knicks crowd was great, the arena was amazing, the vibe and environment cool as could be. But that doesn’t mean I’m running home to pack all my things to move there immediately.
Next up: Home against the Rockets on Friday