On the same day the Oklahoma City Thunder received the season’s worst news, they recorded their most impressive victory.
Playing its third game in three days, the young team led start-to-finish in a 108-96 victory over visiting San Antonio that was nowhere near as close as the final score. The second unit also provided hopeful signs that the loss for the season of backup point guard Eric Maynor to a torn ACL might not spell certain doom.
The heroes were abundant in the Thunder’s convincing victory. They fell into the following categories:
Unlikely Hero – Reggie Jackson
Maynor’s replacement as backup point guard, and consequently the best hope for getting Russell Westbrook some rest before the playoffs, scored a reasonably efficient 11 points with four assists and two turnovers to demonstrate his viability as a second unit floor general. His jump shot stroke looked smooth and he showed off a pretty floater in the lane that could keep defenses off balance if it falls often enough.
Unsung Hero – Nick Collison
America’s favorite plus-minus stalwart once again combined strong one-on-one defense with effective offense, posting a team-high plus-19 in 22 minutes.
Unsurprising Hero – James Harden
His uncharacteristic three missed free throws obscured an otherwise splendid performance from the owner of the NBA’s best beard. Acting as the de facto backup ballhandler, he poured in 20 points in just 22 minutes, ensuring no drop-off in offensive production while Kevin Durant and Westbrook sat for extended stretches.
Unstoppable Hero(es) – OKC’s Third Quarter Lineup
Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka scored the Thunder’s first 25 points of the quarter. This dominant stretch ultimately saw the hosts outscore San Antonio 37-21, stretching a six-point halftime lead to 22 by the period’s end.
Uncomplaining Hero – Durant
It wasn’t just the way he patiently refused to force anything even when faced with the physically unimposing Richard Jefferson and Kawhi Leonard on defense. Nor was it his near-triple-double (21 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists in just 29 minutes, and on only nine field goal attempts). It was how the Thunder leader stayed engaged for every second of the blowout, repeatedly seeking out Jackson to pump up the younger player and build his confidence. Kevin Durant is a true leader because he sees the big picture. Today, he didn’t just see a victory. He saw a sign that his team could have the pieces it needs to emerge on top of this turbulent season.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.