On a regular day for the Oklahoma City Thunder, in which Kevin Durant is himself and Russell Westbrook doesn’t make too many mistakes, they’re simply better by miles than most of the teams they face.
For example, take the shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves, a good defensive team that’s missing its best player (out for 8-10 weeks, again). They already beat the Thunder this season, and should have put up more of a fight in a 84-106 loss.
But when the Thunder’s defense is on point, meaning that the coordination between Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins is impeccable; Thabo Sefolosha does a shut down job on anyone he’s guarding that moment while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook simply pitch in and don’t slack off too much, they become a very hard team to score against.
The offense? That’s never a problem. Even with Westbrook having bad days, the Thunder are guaranteed to put up at least 100 points. Kevin Durant is simply that good, and the attention he draws makes that many openings for his teammates. Durant finished the game with 10-17 from the field, scoring 26 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and adding 4 steals. That’s what we mean pitch in – a focused Durant knows when to use those long, long arms of his and leave his guy in order to help in the double team or close down a passing lane, often resulting in a steal and transition points.
The Timberwolves offense was a mess, turning the ball over 19 times, resulting in 26 points for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook had one of his more focused games of the season, limiting his bad-shot selection to a minimum, mostly blowing by guards who simply have no chance of keeping up with him. He finished with 7-14 from the field, scoring 23 points while adding 8 rebounds and 7 assists. When both players score at least 20 points, the Thunder are 16-4, and have won three consecutive such games.
We don’t really change anything different when we have a bad game. Every time we lose and we don’t play well defensively, it’s just mis-communications and lapses. Once we take those out of the game, we’ll be all right.
The Thunder rely on key runs. This time, it was a a string of seven straight points early in the second half and stretched their lead to 24 before pulling Durant, Westbrook and the other starters with 5:44 remaining.
One of the keys for the Tunder’s success has been continuity and health. The Timberwolves have been walking clinic this season, also missing J.J. Barea from the game, while Ricky Rubio, playing on his first back-to-back game since coming back from his torn ACL, is still very far away from where the Timberwolves would like him to be.
The Thunder had the same starting lineup for the 59th straight game, plus another 20 in last year’s playoffs. No other NBA team has had the same starting five in every game this season. There’s no question health is such a good thing to have in this league, and we’ve had good fortune the last so many years. Hopefully that continues. You want your best players healthy. You want your entire team healthy.