The big thing we were left to wonder in the fourth quarter tonight was simply if Russell Westbrook would somehow find his way to the scoretable to check in to hunt for two more rebounds, and his fifth triple-double of the season.
The answer, was no. Westbrook had to settle for a ho-hum 16 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds.
It was kind of a weird game for him, and Kevin Durant for that matter. Neither seemed to play all that wonderfully, and yet, they completely dominated the game and finished with perfectly fine lines. Westbrook’s shooting has been curiously off for basically all of January, with him struggling in the midrange and not hitting really any open 3s, but through his typical force of will, he’s still scoring the ball and figuring out a way to entirely run game.
That’s such a huge area of his maturation. He can shoot 5-of-14 from the floor and turn it over five times, but still put up the kind of complete box score that allows you to not care. Especially when he plays so well that he doesn’t play a second in the fourth quarter and the Thunder win by 14.
“I’ve been doing the same thing since I’ve been in the league,” Westbrook said. “I’m able to do different things to impact the game. A lot of other are not able to do that. I’m able to score, pass, rebound, defend, do what I can to help us win games. With the weapons we have, the best way for us to play and the best way for myself to play is to find those guys, get those guys shots. I can score when I need to.”
Emphasis mine on the bold. But that stood out to me, even though Westbrook has been saying a version of that the last five or six years. The way he’s playing is really backing it up this time. He seems to enjoy finding his teammates, like Durant said tonight, almost going out of his way to do it.
But here’s the real story from this one: Kyle Singler is suddenly, apparently, an NBA player again. He’s quietly shrugged off those horrific two months to start the season and has produced nicely the past couple weeks, and actually did the kinds of things people notice tonight, hitting three 3s, and one Magic Johnson 1987 Finals style running hook in the lane. He scored 11 points on 4-4 shooting, but was active defensively, didn’t foul everything, and those three 3s in the fourth quarter were important in allowing the starters — Westbrook and Durant, mainly — to rest.
So there you go. That’s 20 of 24, and 32-12. The Thunder have been elite since early December, and there’s no question to some degree that’s been a byproduct of the schedule. There’s no question though they have improved from the team they were in November, and as much as the schedule might’ve influenced that, the other, bigger part of that has been having Kevin Durant for an extended period of time.
- Durant is so ridiculous. He wasn’t shooting it well in the firs half (yeah, 6-14 isn’t good for him, somehow), but anyone that’s watched him for any amount of time knows once one goes down, it’s on. And he hit one a few minutes into the third quarter, and scored nine on 3-6 in the quarter to finish with 26-5-5. Still, not a game to his standards, but that’s just because he’s incredible.
- One thing that’s become clearer and clearer to me the last few weeks is that Serge Ibaka is going to need to play like 47 minutes a game in the playoffs.
- The Thunder are 9-0 when six players score in double figures.
- Westbrook had six assists in the first quarter, and it just feels like he shreds teams early in games with his passing. I looked it up though. Not really. He averages 3.1 in the first quarter, 2.5 in the second, 3.0 in the third and 1.5 in the fourth.
- Those three minutes of Mitch McGary versus Tyler Hansbrough were glorious, weren’t they?
- If Kyle Singler is going to hit corner 3s at even a decent rate, he’s an upgrade over Anthony Morrow. And I love me some Anthony Morrow. But Singler brings so many more things to a lineup, and while there’s going to be spots for Morrow to help, Singler’s versatility could make him more valuable.
- That two month slump to start this season, that really was an extension from last season, was really weird. No one quite understood what happened to an otherwise perfectly acceptable role player. The front office was baffled, the coaching staff stunned and Singler himself confused. But he’s shown some flashes of the player he’s supposed to be, and that player can be a real helpful one.
- This was the seventh game this season Singler had more baskets than fouls.
- You guys see Steven Adams’ weird little shimmy after drawing a foul in the fourth quarter?
- Enes Kanter finished with 12 and six rebounds, but was a big part of the first half creating extra possessions and points.
- So that “Dion Waiters has turned the corner and broken out of his slump!” thing was short lived, eh?
- Durant: “We missed some good looks tonight, last few games actually. Once those start to fall, on top of our defense, and the way we’re passing the ball, the sky’s the limit for us. We just haven’t had any practice time, guys out of rhythm a little bit, games coming so quick, but once we start making shots, it’s going to take us to another level.”
- This is a dumb thought I had during the game. Remember how the Hornets were apparently obsessed with drafting Frank Kaminsky at 11? Did you know he’s just a year younger than Enes Kanter? When you talk about perceptions, it seems like the world barfed when the Thunder extended Kanter, but drafting Kaminsky was a no-brainer for Charlotte. Obviously Kanter’s contract compared to Kaminsky’s rookie deal is a difference, but when you’re talking a player with four years of NBA experience versus a rookie, Kanter seems like a better long-term piece.
- KD pregame on Westbrook’s dunking: “It’s kind of like when you play dodgeball and you hit somebody in the face, and you throw the ball so hard at someone’s face and it’s like ‘boom!’ Sometimes I get a little nervous and afraid that he’s going to hurt his wrist at some point because he’s throwing the ball in the rim so hard. But that’s who he is man, he plays with that aggression and takes it out on the rim. It looks amazing. Last night the dunks he did, it was amazing. At the end of the day it’s two points, but it’s a flashy two points.”
Next up: At the Mavs on Friday