Without their best player, there wasn’t much the New York Knicks were hoping to get from their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. And yet, it’s doubtful that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant thought it was going to be as easy as it seemed to be looking from the outside.
Kevin Durant scored 26 points while shooting 62.5% from the field, followed by Serge Ibaka with 24 points. Ibaka getting to these numbers is usually the best indicator if things worked out well for the Thunder or not, because unlike his two superstar teammates, he doesn’t create shots or forces them. If he gets hot it’s usually because the Thunder moved the ball well enough to set him up with comfortable shots.
Is a 123-94 win that could have been a lot bigger if it wasn’t for a very long garbage time session good enough? Yes, but also it tells us nothing about the Thunder, who were bound to play angry and aggressive after their first home loss of the season (against the Raptors). It also doesn’t show us anything new about the New York Knicks. We knew they were bad without Anthony, and we knew that this isn’t a smart basketball team. Just looking at J.R. Smith (20 points, 8-of-22 from the field), Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. (8-of-19 from the field, 21 points) was enough to tell you there’s no one pulling the strings or directing this team anywhere.
Russell Westbrook became the fifth player to record a triple double on a Christmas game, the first since LeBron James pulled it off in 2010 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Westbrook only needed 29 minutes to get it done. He didn’t shoot very well, getting carried away with running into and popping against the Knicks defense, but finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. It looked like every time he attacked the basket it caused someone to blow his defensive assignment, and free up Ibaka or someone else.
The Knicks thought things will be better when Tyson Chandler gets back, but it was easy to see the frustration on his face, or on Mike Woodson’s, when all he was looking for by the end of the game, was a little bit of fighting spirit, to see if he has players to carry on from here. It’s quite unclear if he was able to get the right message and signal from his players.
This was Thunder basketball at its best. Quick, cruel, unforgiving to mistakes, and actually about more than just Durant and Westbrook trying to do things on their own. The Thunder look like the favorites in the Western conference for a very good reason, as they seem to continue their graph of improvement under Scott Brooks, which is most likely connected to the fact that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are improving as well.
However, that hasn’t been enough for the holy grail in the past. Sticking to this type of game, even if shots will drop at a slightly lesser percentage, is what will get them to their promised land. Simply relying on Durant and Westbrook to do things on their own, like in the loss to the Raptors two nights before, will eventually end in failure.