After Russell Westbrook got a nasty cut in his face due to an accidental elbow, the Oklahoma City Thunder went on a 12-0 run without him. Some say energy, others might say that it’s a weak opponent. Maybe it has to do with Kevin Durant playing even better without the often-selfish point guard playing next to him.
The best explanation is probably facing the Phoenix Suns. A team with bad defense, allowing 101.4 points per game, and not enough offensive talent to pull them through against times like the Thunder. Kevin Durant had a big day with 30 points and not much else, enjoying the tons of space the Suns allowed him to operate in for some reason, as did everyone else on the Thunder, who shot at 50.6% from the field and turned the ball over only 5 times throughout the game.
Once again, it’s nice facing the Suns; the Suns haven’t beaten Oklahoma City since December 19, 2010, losing to the Thunder seven consecutive times. They’ve lost six in a row heading into the new year.
It was just energy. We just upped our energy level. We were moving the basketball so well. Everybody was touching it. We got good shots.
It was good shot after good shot. Even Russell Westbrook felt comfortable. Even Russell Westbrook, who came back all stitched up with some sort of vengeance mode driving him forward, shot nearly 50% from the field. The stitch didn’t change the way he plays, despite everything, as he finished with 24 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists. The Thunder felt inclined to make their point guard feel good about himself after the game.
Russ is tough. He competes. He does a lot of good things. Russell plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of toughness. He just plays hard. I’m so proud of the way he plays every night. He doesn’t miss games. He doesn’t miss practice. He just competes every time down the court. Like a lot of our guys, he’s not always perfect, but his effort most nights is always good. Russell came back and gave us good effort and energy and toughness.
The win did give Scott Brooks a more prolonged look at Reggie Jackson as his point guard, playing 15 minutes, dishing 6 assists and finishing with 6 points. Of course there are the defensive issues to think about, but maybe playing certain lineups that involve Jackson and Westbrook together could work well for the Thunder in the future and help curb down the decision making options of Russell Westbrook. Giving him less opportunities to think with the ball is making sure he makes less mistakes under pressure.
After two consecutive losses, the Thunder are back to normal. Kevin Durant having his 13th 30 points game of the season, Serge Ibaka looking good and dominant on both ends and Russell Westbrook playing with something to prove, in a good way. Against most of the NBA, and especially the teams with the kinds of weaknesses that make it so easy for the Thunder to play against, they actually look like the best team in the league. They just needs to hope this last deep into the playoffs, and doesn’t end abruptly when they face the Miami Heat again.