Last time Serge Ibaka scored at least 21 points? It’s been two years to be exact. Too much for a big man that should be more than about defense, dunks and blocks. On another awful shooting night from Russell Westbrook, someone needed to help Kevin Durant on his way to a big finish in Chicago, giving the Oklahoma City Thunder their first road win of the season.
We’ve been doing plenty of Westbrook bashing so far this season. Maybe Scott Brooks is the man we should be. He’s the man setting up this predictable, talent-based offense. He’s the man who decided he’ll let Kendrick Perkins hold the fort in the paint against a Miami Heat team in the NBA Finals six months ago. But wins like these, in Chicago, against a Bulls team that’s anything but easy to beat, have to be attributed to the head coach as well.
Russell Westbrook sat the first six minuted of the fourth quarter, as Eric Maynor did a great job against a Chicago Bulls team that will have a lot of problems closing out games this season. One of the things European and College hoops fans have with the NBA is that for some reason, teams tend to revert to the same predictable thing in the fourth quarter. Isolation for your go to guy, no matter what worked or didn’t through the first three quarters. Same substitutions, same drawn up plays. A silenced agreement that everyone, or almost everyone, play the same way when the game is on the line. Chicago, until Derrick Rose comes back, don’t have that go to guy they can trust.
The Thunder? They have two of them. But for the first time this season, Westbrook only took what was given to him. He had three assists in the fourth quarter, 12 all game. He finished with 7-22 from the field, but in the fourth quarter he kept making good decisions. The right passes (except for one turnover), the right shots (missing only once). Growing up, or just a short term understanding after a rough night?
Kevin Durant was the clutch man, Serge Ibaka was the set up guy. Ibaka closed down the paint in the fourth quarter, as the Bulls struggled with only 19 points. Ibaka finished with 9 rebounds and an even bigger 4 blocks, including one huge one in the fourth when the Bulls were trying to come back after already dropping the lead. On the other end, Durant, 11-19 on the day from the field, finishing with a game high 24 points, was as money as he usually is in crunch time. He just needs to see more of the ball.
What was surprising is that Durant needed Westbrook on the floor to start hitting the jumpers. The Chicago defense expected Westbrook to make the mistakes he’s been making this season in the fourth quarter, but Westbrook actually created for Durant, who hit three big shots in the mix of his turnovers and another missed layup. Clutch, but not perfect.
It was a season-high point total for Durant, who entered averaging 20.8 points after scoring a league-best 28 points per game last season. Durant had scored at least 25 points in his previous seven games against Chicago, but his high in Oklahoma City’s first four games was just 23.
Westbrook later said that he told Durant to be more aggressive if he wants to get the shots he needs. He forgot to mention a lot depends on him actually giving him the ball. For once, the usually selfish point guard decided not to force it, and actually create for others. It worked.