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OKC Turns Off the Heat

Posted By Steven Jones On Mar 25 2012 @ 10:54 pm In Oklahoma City Thunder | No Comments

On a night when the marquee Oklahoma City-Miami matchup put the NBA’s brightest stars on display, whose song titles would be more appropriate than Ziggy Stardust himself, David Bowie? Try it out before passing judgement.

God Knows I’m Good: The Thunder front office should send everyone with an MVP vote a tape of Kevin Durant’s first half. The perfect catch-and-shoot jumpers are familiar by this point (not that we should take his artistry for granted). The J’s paled, though, next to pinpoint passes that turned Kendrick Perkins (8-11, 16 points) into a useful offensive weapon. The J’s looked pretty, but didn’t warm coaches’ hearts the way his perfect defensive stance and willingness to compete against LeBron James (8-18, 17 points, one free throw attempt) did.

Under Pressure: In his team’s biggest showcase to date, Russell Westbrook was the only Thunder player clearly pressing under the spotlight. He finished with as many turnovers (four) as made field goals, and played his worst first half of the season, rushing shots and committing silly fouls in an effort to do everything at once. His trigger-happiness landed him on the bench with over seven minutes left in the half after his third personal.

Many pickup players know the feeling of a game when nothing will drop and the natural reaction is to force things, compounding the problem by putting up increasingly desperate shots. Westbrook’s stink-bomb was only different because it dropped on national television against the team he’ll likely face in the NBA Finals.

He also had more of a chance at redemption, since an NBA contest lasts much longer than the usual shirts vs. skins to 11. His passes out of traps and on fast breaks in the third quarter led to several baskets.

His hubris reared an ugly head, though, in a forced 26-foot airball that killed some Thunder momentum when Dwyane Wade answered by hitting a three on the other end, causing every Westbrook doubter to sadly shake his head.

I’ll Follow You: Thunder coach Scott Brooks catches a lot of heat (pun not intended) in this blog and others for his seemingly laissez-faire approach to coaching. He’ll change the conversation if he keeps preparing his team like he obviously did tonight.

The Thunder ball movement was the best it’s been all season. Each player – except, occasionally, Westbrook – clearly understood that quick passes were the only weapon that could undo Miami’s trapping defense. Yes, the Thunder shot an unusually high percentage, but they deserve all the credit for creating so many open, quality looks.

Boys Keep Swinging: The Thunder played their best game of the season and mostly cruised to their 103-87 victory. They have to do it all over again in just nine days, when they’ll visit Miami for the rematch. Can they summon the same effort? The whole world will be watching.

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