It was the long-awaited return OKC fans hoped for Monday night in Salt Lake City. After an uncertain run over the last several games, the beloved blue uniforms returned to the fold and catalyzed the Thunder’s 111-89 road win over the Jazz.
OK, OK. It wasn’t the not-at-all-beloved blue alternates, but the return of Kevin Durant that powered Oklahoma City to a reassuring beat down in Utah. And he didn’t dip his toe back into the NBA waters either, ruthlessly reducing the Jazz defense to cinders with 27 points on 10-13 shooting. What hamstring?
There’s nothing quite like a vintage Thunder beat down to calm the nerves after some ugly basketball during KD’s absence. How nice it would be to eliminate what happened between Durant leaving the Wizards game at halftime and now. You may recall the Thunder looked as cold blooded in the first half against Washington as they did tonight against the Jazz. After the early three-game slide, OKC was looking like we all expected right before KD went down, and was looking that way again upon his return.
The Thunder appeared to take the court with a confidence and attitude that has been sorely missing in the last couple of listless, ugly weeks, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the emotional lift of Durant’s return provided the spark. But whatever the reason, the OKC team that dispatched the Jazz with such ease on Monday was active, aggressive, decisive and deliberate. The focus was clear.
OKC overwhelmed the Jazz physically all over the court, throwing bodies at Utah’s Rudy Gobert and disrupting his game. Steven Adams did Steven Adams things and eventually coaxed a technical foul out of Gobert, who was clearly flustered by the Thunder’s physical play and gamesmanship. Serge Ibaka’s early block at the rim on Gobert served notice the Thunder wouldn’t be ceding the paint on either end of the floor, and the aggression on defense provided the spark that got OKC’s transition offense.
While Golden State dazzles with its own brand of beautiful basketball predicated on sexy ball movement and sexy Steph Curry, the Thunder’s style has always been more like a detonation. Raw physical dominance, speed and precisely controlled athleticism flattening opponents unable to out-scheme what they can’t outrun or out-jump. And it remains true the Thunder will have to win when that’s not an option, which is part of why Billy Donovan is on the sideline now. But OKC’s blitzing style is as thrilling to watch as ever, and it was on full display as the Thunder ran out to 30+ points on the fast break.
That’s the Thunder at full strength, which is maybe one of the only machines capable of standing toe-to-toe with Golden State right now. It was one win over a fringe playoff team, but it was good to see KD and OKC playing Thunderball again.
- KD’s first bucket told you all you needed to know about the hamstring: coast-to-coast, changing speeds and a finish in traffic. Feeling just fine.
- Serge Ibaka had a gorgeous block on Rudy Gobert in the first quarter, leading to a fast break dunk for Durant. Then Ibaka and Adams teamed up to block Derrick Favors, and KD cleaned up with yet another block on the same possession. That Thunder length and strength. Of course, Utah then had their best run of the game by scoring the next 11 points. But it was still great.
- The first half featured one of the worst clear path foul calls I’ve ever seen on Andre Roberson, and it was upheld by review. I guess you’re not allowed to be level with a guy, go faster than him to get in front of him and then foul him.
- Enes Kanter was booed the second he stood up from the bench to enter the game for the first time. But, in comments to reporters before the game, he slightly walked back his harsh words for Utah from last season.
- The second unit was fantastic in this game, particularly in the second quarter. In other words, it played exactly as it was expected to before the season. They extended a slim lead to a double digit margin the Thunder wouldn’t relinquish, and they did it with decisive execution and aggression.
- Although I’ll give most of the credit for the strong run from the second unit to D.J. Augustin’s steady hand, Dion Waiters was sharp and making things happen on offense. Made the pass when he had to, got to the rim and generally didn’t do many “Oh Dion” things.”
- Russ was Russ, three rebounds and a board from a triple double with 20 points on 10 shots despite not playing the fourth quarter. My favorite Westbrook moment was a coast-to-coast drive while Gobert preened after a dunk. Russ knew his path was clear as long as Gobert wasn’t going to run back. Now, Westbrook has been victimized himself in a few situations like that. But still.
- You knew KD was going to have one of those games when he had his heat check three in the first half right after he buried a 3-pointer from the corner with an Anthony Morrow-like quick release. On the next possession, he hit a catch-and-shoot three when he arrived at the line. I giggled.
- Favors had a sick poster dunk on KD, who fouled him. But not even one replay from the Fox Sports Oklahoma crew. We know he’s a bad guy, FSOK, but still… One replay wouldn’t hurt.
- I see you Dion with the behind-the-back on the transition dunk.
- Gordon Hayward’s perfectly coiffed hair got me thinking. European soccer probably has the best/craziest hair in world sport right now, but the NBA has some contenders too. We should come up with All-Hair teams for East and West. Also, someone with photoshop skills should switch out the hairdos on Hayward and Steven Adams.
- Mitch McGary went down with what looked like a twisted ankle in garbage time. Terrible timing for McGary, who hasn’t gotten a crack at the rotation yet.
Up next: Brooklyn in OKC on Wednesday.