The stage was set for panic of epic proportions if the Thunder lost to the walking dead Pelicans, who were down to only nine available players. Are you allowed to panic, even just a little, after a win though?
Because even with a seven-point victory over New Orleans, one in which Russell Westbrook went for 43 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, the Thunder looked entirely aimless for a solid 65 percent of the game. I suppose this outcome is better than the alternative, but even without Kevin Durant, there’s just… something uncomfortable about the way the team plays.
The way the Pelicans scored in the fourth quarter was really some of the more disorienting stuff I’ve seen from the Thunder in a good while. It was almost as if they were letting the Pelicans score so they could get the ball and run clock or something.
Once the Thunder went up 11 with six minutes left, it felt over. Then it was down to three with three minutes left. The lapses aren’t concerning. They’re downright worrisome. Sure, some of this had to do with the odd lineups the Pelicans were using, playing Ryan Anderson at center which forced the Thunder to try and find an awkward balance between big and small. But the downhill attacks from the Pelicans opened the 3-point line and had they knocked a few more open ones down — they shot 8-of-32 from deep — this could’ve been permitted panic.
If this game were an isolated event, you’d just say that the Thunder didn’t play great but won the game and moving on to the next one. But this team is 7-5 and has been running on a common theme the past couple weeks. I just don’t see that many good things happening. I see them winning games because Russell Westbrook is ridiculous, which I didn’t think was supposed to be how they were going to win anymore. The Thunder got 43 from Westbrook, and 24 from Enes Kanter. After that, D.J. Augustin had nine, Andre Roberson had eight and… Serge Ibaka had six?
Kevin Durant will be back soon, possibly Friday, but I can’t help but wonder: Will he be returning to a team that’s gotten any better since he’s been out? I don’t really think so. Now, don’t misunderstand: Full strength, I think this Thunder team is absolutely in the class of the West and most certainly a contender. That’s who they are. They are a good team because Westbrook and Durant are good. There’s nothing really all that wrong with that, either. Remember when LeBron took his sabbatical last season and the Cavs sucked? It’s a funny thing, how you don’t play as well without your superstar player.
Still: We watched this incarnation of the Thunder, or really, a worse version of it, for the final two months of the season last year, and they look identical to that. It’s go Westbrook, and hope the other team misses enough to get a win.
I guess my main takeaway is this: Thank heavens Anthony Davis didn’t play.
- Donovan took responsibility for some of the defensive issues, saying he wanted to stay big and that compromised the Thunder’s ability to stop the ball and not collapse on drives to open up the 3-point line. That is a tough balance to find, because some of your best players are big guys, but you don’t want to create matchup issues. At the same time, going big would seem to create advantages in other areas.
- Part of the problem with things staying close: The Thunder missed 13 free throws.
- Of course, it was Kendrick Perkins’ big return to Oklahoma City tonight, even though he’s injured. And in perfect Perk fashion, he picked up a tech on the bench in the first quarter.
- The entire second half, any timeout, KD and Perk met almost at halfcourt to exchange in some light-hearted trash talking. It was fun to watch.
- After the game, Perk strolled into the Thunder locker room like he owned the place. Walked up to Westbrook and Waiters and talked to them, then went back to the showers to give Serge Ibaka some hell. It was great.
- For shame nobody yelled out, “We just let anyone up in here now?”
- Donovan went with a lot of Kanter tonight, playing him 30 minutes which produced 24 points and 14 rebounds. Steven Adams only got 11.
- Man, Ibaka sure hasn’t shot the ball well lately. Or defended all that well. Or rebounded all that well. I blame the fresh haircut. Too fresh.
- The Dion Waiters layup. You just knew it was going to go wrong somewhere around the 3-point line.
- Via ESPN Stats and Info: After his whiff in the first quarter, he had missed more layups (14) than he’s made (13) this season. He did recover to make back-to-back layups after that, though.
- And finished 2-10 shooting. No other way around it, Waiters wasn’t good. The moment he missed that layup, you knew it was going to be a bad shooting night for him.
- Really though, the whole team had a case of the Waiters tonight. So many layups missed.
- I’ve said before the Roberson issue is a tough one, and I wasn’t sure where I stood. At this point, I think I’m all the way over that he needs 25+ minutes a game. Maybe more. And here’s another thing: There was a lot of talk about how Kanter needs to play the bulk of his minutes with Ibaka. Kanter really needs to play as much as he can with Roberson. Kanter is such a poor rim protector and defender in the pick-and-roll that the big issue is playing him with weak on-ball guys like Augustin and Morrow. Having Roberson on the floor (and Westbrook) puts at least two solid on-ball defenders out there to try and alleviate a bit of the pressure on Kanter.
- Roberson’s shot looks much improved. He’s worked tirelessly on it, but it’s a little smoother, and a lot more balanced. I still fear the airball every time he fires, but I also can picture it going in too.
- More disappointing than the missed matchup opportunity of Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis was Luke Babbitt cutting his hair so we could have his hair versus Kyle Singler’s.
- Hey, Singler was kind of not terrible. Hit a 3, scored five points and if you’re into one-game plus/minus, was a +16.
Next up: Home against the Knicks on Friday