Even on a glorious day of NBA action that saw the defending champs get a dose of Linsanity and the Miami Heat stake their own claim to Lob City, the Thunder’s 124-118 victory over Denver stood out.
Traditionally, a game this memorable would not feature a last-minute scoring duel between Kevin Durant and Chris Andersen. The Birdman’s fourth-quarter scoring streak, though, was just one of the game’s singular events. Here are the others.
Anything Russell Can Do, Kevin Can Do Better: Only 12 times in NBA history had two teammates scored 40 or more points in the same game. Durant and Russell Westbrook just became the lucky 13th pair.
Durant scored his career-high 51 in 45 minutes, hitting 19-28 field goals (including 5-6 three-pointers) and scoring five points in the last 30 seconds to send the game into overtime.
Westbrook took 29 shots to score his 40, including several of the forced off-dribble jumpers that make some Thunder fans cringe.
Enough of those fell tonight to justify Westbrook’s calling his own number so often, but it was far more thrilling to see run a perfect give-and-go with James Harden that set up the game-sealing foul-line jumper in overtime.
Future Thunder opponents should scout such plays with fear in their hearts. A Russell Westbrook who trusts his teammates is a potentially unstoppable offensive weapon.
He Spells His Name K-O-U . . .: Denver was missing All-Star caliber center Nene, but in the second quarter it was unsung backup Kosta Koufos who looked like he should be in consideration for a spot in Orlando.
Within 45 seconds of entering the game, Koufos had three points and two offensive rebounds. By the game’s end, he had 13 points and nine boards – four of them offensive – in a mere 13 minutes. If the Thunder are to compete for an NBA title, they can’t afford to give up career nights to opponents’ journeymen.
Block Party: Serge Ibaka recorded the 50th points-rebounds-blocks triple double in NBA history. Four of his 11 rejections came in the fourth quarter, and the last of them sealed the game in overtime when he erased Arron Afflalo’s effort to cut into the Thunder lead.
Ibaka has three double-digit block efforts this month and leads the league in both total blocks and blocks per game. In time, his swat numbers should go down as opponents become wary of challenging him. For now, he’s the most exciting defender in basketball.
What, Us Worry?: Even after an exhilarating win, Thunder observers can see a half-empty glass. They needed five extra minutes and historic accomplishments (and 40-plus minutes) from Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka to beat a Nuggets team missing three of its best players.
Coach Scott Brooks may have made a season-changing discovery, though, with the small lineup he used to finish regulation and overtime. Durant, Ibaka, Westbrook, Harden, and Daequan Cook spread the floor and fought hard enough defensively to overcome their lack of size.
Oklahoma City’s personnel may not lend itself perfectly to more traditional lineups, but if Brooks is willing to think outside the box, his team may play into June.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.