A night removed from a gut-wrenching loss in which old demons resurfaced, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked like a new team in their home opener. The 106-92 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers exorcized a fair amount of demons for a two-game-old season.
Old teammate James Harden continued to haunt the Thunder, scoring 45 points against Atlanta to bring his average as a Houston Rocket to a tidy 41.0 per game and creating a mini-riot on Twitter. 1,500 miles away, Thunder fans and detractors alike wondered if the team had irreparably changed its fortune by sending the bearded one packing. Many of those worriers tossed around terms like “blend” and “chemistry” without really considering their meanings.
OKC’s players tonight worked past the distraction in the cleanest way possible, with a team effort that hinted at new, powerful, Harden-less chemistry. The equation was simple, but potent. The critical elements:
Hydrogen (Durant-Westbrook) – After seeming at times disjointed against old nemesis San Antonio, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook looked every bit the stable elemental building block in Chesapeake Energy Arena. They showcased a pick-and-roll symmetry rarely seen in the past, leading to the game’s defining moment: Westbrook dribbling to his favorite spot at the elbow, wide open . . . then passing up the shot to hit Durant in stride for a dunk on delayed roll to the hoop.
Westbrook’s point guard instincts remain a work in progress, but plays like this one (which closed out the first half) show tantalizing development in his floor game.
Oxygen (Martin) – He’ll be “new addition Kevin Martin” until at least January, but the best shooter on the court showed why he’s a welcome addition tonight, occupying the defense and allowing everyone else to breathe.
Martin’s shooting touch has opened up the court in a way that allows every teammate a bit more room to maneuver offensively. His steady demeanor and quick decision-making offer a welcome counterpart to his more explosive All-Star wingmen, and he’ll offer a clinic in drawing fouls to any defender who dares reach or let his attention wander.
In two games this season, Martin has averaged over a point every two minutes and has yet to miss a free throw. He’s no James Harden, but he’s one of a kind just the same.
Carbon (Collison) – Who else could be the building block of life? The longest-tenured Thunder member was his usual whirling dervish self, diving for loose balls, unleashing violent dunks after making himself available for dump-off passes, and frustrating any Blazer who dared try to establish post position.
His lunging save to start a fourth-quarter fast break garnered the loudest applause of the night from a thoroughly appreciative crowd.
Uranium (Perkins) – The Thunder center personifies the element most likely to melt down. Kendrick left the game limping after an apparent ankle injury, and if he misses extended time, it’ll force an interesting playing time conundrum between the eager-but-raw Hasheem Thabeet and the scarier (for both OKC and its opponents) prospect of playing a center-less lineup. heavy minutes.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.