With five minutes left in the first half, every fan in Chesapeake Energy Arena asked himself, “Can we get to 70?”
With five minutes left in the second half, those same fans had to ask, “Could we really blow this?”
It was just another night at the office for these bizarre, schizophrenic Oklahoma City Thunder. Those of us along for the ride witnessed the following wondrous sights:
* Turnover-Free Quarter! The league’s “leaders” in turnovers per game (17.1) went an entire 12-minute stretch without a giveaway. This was a contributing factor in an eventual 30-3 run that created a 23-point halftime lead, behind a league-high 72-point output.
It couldn’t last: four fourth-quarter turnovers and two technical fouls allowed the Celtics and their D-League lineup to crawl within single digits. Still, Thunder fans could rejoice in one glorious quarter in which their team proved it could hold onto the ball.
* Stay Here! Lead referee Marc Davis, the senior official on tonight’s crew, seemed to feel the burden of his compatriots’ inexperience. He repeatedly made calls that came several seconds after the contact, creating the impression of a playground game where players call their own fouls based on whether the shot goes in.
NBA officials have taken some heat this season, some of it deserved, but games like this one remind us all that officiating players who still haven’t gotten their timing back after a long lockout can’t be easy.
* Small-Ball by Necessity. When the Celtics opened the game with Kevin Garnett in the middle, Paul Pierce at power forward, and Mickeal Pietrus desperately trying to bother Kevin Durant, any reasonable Thunder fan could have foreseen a blowout.
Five minutes into the game, when Boston’s first six points had come in the paint and Serge Ibaka couldn’t rebound or score over Pierce, the story looked different.
The Thunder managed to take advantage of their size disparity, outrebounding their guests by 11 and outscoring them by 14 in the paint. Durant in particular took advantage of the undersized defenders who sacrificed themselves to the cause, repeatedly backing down Pietrus and Avery Bradley for short turnarounds.
* Who’s Got Next? Russell Westbrook’s three-point stroke has either returned or appeared, depending on how charitable you’re feeling. He has hit 35% of his long-range tries in February, and his form on spot-up shots has looked far healthier of late.
Just as encouraging to Thunder fans is Westbrook’s continual evolution as a distributor. Down the stretch, with the Thunder lead cut to single digits, Russell yielded to James Harden and Durant instead of forcing the action.
It’s almost become a mantra on this blog, but the more Westbrook can reel himself in, the more dangerous his team becomes.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.