09 December 2010
It isn't how you start, but rather how you finish. That could not have been more apparent during last night's game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves
Following a road loss on Monday night in which Kevin Durant and Jeff Green were benched for the majority of the third quarter for lack of hustle and defense, the Thunder came out flat in the first quarter of last night' contest in Minnesota. After one frame, Oklahoma City found themselves trailing the Timberwolves by a score of 40-22. Clearly, the team had forgotten about the message that Scott Brooks tried to send the previous game. Thankfully, it did not take them long to recall what was said, as they all turned it up a notch on both ends of the floor to demonstrate that this is a new day.
The old Thunder (ironic, because they played that way because they were even younger) would have crawled into a hole and watched the game get even worse. But this is the new Thunder, and poor defense will simply not be tolerated. This team is too good to allow that to take place in consecutive games.
Durant remembered what happened when these two teams squared off a couple of years ago. Minnesota built up a lead of as much as 44 points in the game, with the final deficit ending in a 42 point loss. They say you have to have a short memory in sports, but being able to recall certain things is not always a bad thing either. Durant absolutely took over in this one, as he finished with a game high 30 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 6 assists. It was also nice to see him shoot a little better, as he went 11 of 23 from the field. He would foul out of the game with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, but the game was basically well in hand at that point.
Brooks told reporters after the game that the team played as well defensively in the second half as they had all season long. Of course, when you compare this effort to the previous game's second half against the Chicago Bulls and first quarter against Minnesota, the defense has to look much better.But it wasn't just comparatively speaking, as everyone chipped in with a solid defensive effort last night.
Serge Ibaka blocked 6 of his career high 8 shots in the final quarter, and fell just two blocks shy of the NBA record. And make no mistake about the fact that while his final stat line in the box score does not look all that impressive, Nick Collison played a very important part in last night's win, most notably on the defensive end of the floor.
Russell Westbrook also had another big game, as he also shot better from the field, connecting on 10 of 20 shots to score 25 points. He also added 8 assists and 4 rebounds.
The Thunder are figuring out what it takes to close out a game. Playing solid defense and converting attempts from the free throw line are always key, and last night proved that point. The team buried all nine of their attempts from the foul line in the fourth quarter, whereas the Timberwolves hit just 6 of 13 in the final 12 minutes. Sometimes, it can be as simple as making free throws, which the Thunder make seem very simple. They hit 25 of 27 last night to improve on their league leading 85.7 percent. They are on pace to set an all time NBA record.
I don't often talk about the opposing team's players, but I have to give a lot of credit to Kevin Love of Minnesota. He scored 22 points and pulled down 21 rebounds last night. He may not have shot well down the stretch, but by recording his fifth 20-20 game of the season, he has now turned in as many of those performances as the rest of the league combined. It seems as if it was just a few months back that people questioned whether or not Love can play in this league. I hope he has given you your answer.
The Thunder are off on Thursday before they travel to New Orleans to face the Hornets on Friday night.
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